In the port of the future, drones will become as common a sight as ships. In preparation for this change, Port of Rotterdam Authority has launched a U-space Airspace prototype. The area covers the uncontrolled airspace of Europoort and Maasvlakte and aims to provide insights into VLL airspace management, create opportunities for drone operators in the port, and evaluate the effects of Unmanned Air Traffic servicesfor drones. Moreover, Port of Rotterdam aims to set an example with this prototype for national expansion, such as over urban areas.
Gaining Practical Experience
The primary objective of the U-space trial is to gain practical experience, not just in a controlled test environment. This means deploying the system in a fully operational environment, without temporary restrictions such as a TGB where manned aviation is excluded. Ultimately, U-space aims to make all airspace users – manned, unmanned, and non-cooperative – electronically visible in order to prevent airspace conflicts. For this purpose, the Unmanned Traffic Management system from Airwayz is used.
Although many steps still need to be taken before U-space becomes fully operational, the port already wants to support current drone operators. Currently, 40 commercial drone operators are active in the U-space area, including some government services. Thanks to “area request forms” introduced in April, Port of Rotterdam knows which operators are flying where, enabling them to contact each other if a potential in-air conflict arises; this is known as pre-flight area deconfliction, the first in a set of risk-mitigating measures.
Flight Area Requests
In this initial phase of the prototype, Port of Rotterdam uses request forms on their website. Operators submit their flight details, after which the newly established ‘Airspace Centre’ – staffed by Airspace Managers, the air traffic controllers for drones – checks for potential conflicts with other requests. In these cases, operators are connected for safe coordination. Additionally, the Airspace Managers ensure that only drones from the Specific category, which have operational authorization from the CAA NL, fly in the port.
Since the introduction of the area request forms, there’s been an increase in their use. This suggests growing awareness of the system or an increasing number of drone flights in the area. Due to the success of these forms, Airwayz is now developing a web application to make the request process even smoother. Since the start in April this year, 130 flight areas have been requested, with multiple flights in each of these zones. The flights vary in type and purpose, from inspections and measurements to marketing objectives.
While not all current operators immediately need U-space, those planning more complex operations in the future will surely benefit. With the growing number of flights, U-space becomes increasingly relevant, especially when drones fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), such as for providing delivery services to ships. Port of Rotterdam aims to be prepared for this and facilitate it. In early October, all drone operators will reconvene at the Port Authority to discuss current progress and future steps.