Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Port of Rotterdam Demonstrates Automated Management of Drone Flights in U-space Prototype

On November 8, the Port of Rotterdam and U-space partner Airwayz organized a live demonstration of daily drone operations in the port area. Representatives from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, CAA NL, Royal NLR, LVNL, the municipality of Rotterdam, and the province of South Holland were present. The event showcased how Airspace Managers and the Airwayz UTM system support these operations. Earlier, in October, all operators had already convened for an update on the U-space Airspace prototype set up by the Port Authority.

Airspace is getting busier

Since the launch of the prototype and the registration of flight areas, a noticeable trend has been the growing number of drone operators offering services to companies in the port area. These services range from asset inspections and port surveyance to bulk stock measurements, construction activities, security, first responder activities and aerial photo flights for promotional purposes. The airspace is becoming noticeably busier, increasing the need for a fully functional U-space airspace.

An important challenge is making all drone operators electronically visible in the central UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) system. Although U-space currently offers little added value for some operators who mainly fly VLOS, larger operators with more frequent flights and more advanced operations are showing more interest in this. However, the current situation shows that not all operators are ready for direct communication with UTM, and therefore differentiation in automation levels is crucial in this preliminary phase toward a full-fledged U-Space Airspace.

API vs. WebApp

To meet the needs of various users, the U-Space project introduces two types of users: ‘API users’ with direct integration and ‘WebApp users’ who use a dedicated Airwayz web application. API users can expect more extensive services, while WebApp users must use a separate app in addition to their regular operating software.

The good news is that there is a growing market in the industry for software packages that support operators in their flight organization. This software can then also provide integration with the UTM system. The demo was carried out with two of these companies; Aeret’s Drone Flightlog software simplifies flight data logging and flight plan creation, while SKYOPS.com Flight Management Solution provides immediate insight in all technical and operational aspects for manned and unmanned operations in the pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight phases. Mark de Haan from Aeret demonstrated the pre-flight API integration (the flight authorization process for area zones), and Jordy Ebbink from SKYOPS demonstrated the full API integration, including the authorization process for flight routes and real-time positions.

René Dikken from DDC, the Rotterdam-based company that offers many drone and data processing services to major customers in the port area, showed how to use the WebApp.

Flight submissions and services

The demonstration on November 8 showed how operators in Rotterdam’s Europoort and Maasvlakte make themselves known to the UTM system in various ways and which information they receive back from the UTM. Eight different scenarios were simulated for this purpose, with the addition of a ninth scenario for the near future, called Dynamic Airspace Reconfiguration.

The scenarios started with the automatic submission of an ‘area-based 4D volume’ via the Aeret and SKYOPS software. This involves reserving a specific airspace section, including time and altitude. Immediately after submission, a visible confirmation in the flight software followed. The WebApp user did this via a separate application. API user SKYOPS then submitted a ‘trajectory-based 4D volume’, based on the intended flight route. This method with trajectories instead of areas will be used more in the future to keep sufficient airspace capacity available. After a deconfliction check by the UTM system, the submission was immediately approved.

No-fly zones and deconfliction

The subsequent scenarios involved situations in which the Airspace Managers of the Port of Rotterdam Airspace Centre, due to an incident for example, established a restricted or temporary no-fly zone in the intended flight area. This demonstrated how API and WebApp users are notified and provided with alternatives.

Subsequent scenarios covered the situation where two operators submitted an operational intent for the same area and time, and how API and WebApp users receive strategic deconfliction information. SKYOPS then demonstrated the operation of the ‘conformance monitoring’ service, which applies corrections to drones that fly outside their intended and approved flight zone. This is an essential measure to prevent fly-away situations. Finally, it was demonstrated how priority flights, which may soon be requested by specific operators, are handled.

No more manual requests

To date, Airspace Managers have provided pre-flight area deconfliction to operators based on manual flight area requests forms. However, on November 8, the U-space project took an important step forward: the manual forms will soon be abolished. Instead, the first operators now have a direct and automated connection to the Airwayz UTM system and are able to receive services via the system.

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Ingrid Römers

Ingrid Römers is the U-space project leader at the Port of Rotterdam.

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