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European Port Plans For Drone Logistics

Posted on November 7, 2022

The Port of Rotterdam has started to think about how to manage the airspace occupied by drones

A vision of the future where unmanned drones abound, making deliveries and picking up cargo samples for early analysis, has prompted the Port of Rotterdam to start a trial of an unmanned traffic management system

With more than 3000 companies represented within its boundaries and 1270 staff of its own, the Port of Rotterdam Authority in the Netherlands is the largest seaport in Europe.

With a stated ambiition of being the “smartest port in the world”, it is perhaps no surprise to hear that the Authority has launched a trial into an air traffic system for the lower airspace occupied by unmanned drones.

PoRA head of digital innovations Oscar van Veed says increasing the safety of manned and unmanned traffic in the port area is one of the main motivations for the business to partner with Airwayz to build a U-Space Airspace prototype for the port industrial complex.

“Improving the visibility of aircrafts, better identification of unmanned flights and the option of banning flights over sensitive locations also play a role,” van Veed says.

“Airspace monitoring will provide insight into the use of the sky and make it possible to enforce regulations.

“At the same time, but no less important, an unmanned traffic management system will enable drone operators to offer their services safely to the ports’ clients, which is of paramount importance to us.”

The push to better manage drone services has come at a time when the use of the unmanned craft are on the rise.

Drones are already offering surveillance, incident control, and inspection services, and the Authority envisions a time when they could be used to deliver spare parts to a ship, or to move goods within the local area.

In a statement about the intention to become involved in researching the management of drone airspace, the PoRA says it wishes to be a role model for Dutch U-Space developments and contributed to its “exploring voyage” in the Netherlands.

“The prototype stage is forseen to cover a period of two years. In this period PoRA and Airwayz will co-operate with the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management for the purpose of developing the governance, finance and legal framework for airspace management,” the PoRA says.

In a market insight piece on drones released in March this year, global law firm Clyde & Co reflected on the challenge of regulating the use of the technology.

It noted that: “widespread use of drones is now in place around mining, remote exploration works and repair, maritime work, geological survey, agricultural land management, urban transport and delivery, aerial photography, media, and more”.

With more and more drones being bought, and more and more uses being found for them, Clyde & Co says better regulation is just a matter of time.

“The exponential growth in the use and deployment of drones globally and of the technology underpinning their scope and operation dictates that the regulatory framework and associated security and commercial arrangements such as insurance will continue to evolve,” the firm says.

“The development of a consistent regulatory and operational framework for drones must also consider design and product liability issues which in turn are closely connected to the development of drone-specific airworthiness standards, including mandated fail-safe functions.”

For an idea of the scale of drone uptake, the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration office reports there are 865,505 drones registered in the US as of November 2022. Of those 314,689 are registered for commercial use, 538,172 for recreational use and 3,644 are paper registrations only.

In Australia, drone usage and monitoring is overseen by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority with each state government having its own strategy and rules around where drones can and cannot be flown.

Airservices Australia, another player in the sector, has partnered with four different companies to begin prototyping Australia’s first Flight Information Management System with the target of enabling Airservices to share flight information from crewed and uncrewed flights and air traffic control.

The four chosen companies are ARNA Technologies, Altitude Angel, Frequentis Australasia and OneSky Systems.

The National Emerging Aviation Technologies Statement released in May 2021, predicts the new forms of aviation could deliver a $14.5 billion economic benefit over the next 20 years.

Whether it is the logistics of moving people around via unmanned air taxis, or delivering and picking up goods, it is becoming clear that drones will join trucks, ships, planes and other commercial vehicles in making a contribution to tackling the freight and passenger transport needs of the future.


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