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Rapid Growth of Flight Requests in Rotterdam’s U-Space Airspace

The number of operators and flight requests in Rotterdam’s U-Space Airspace has grown significantly. The WebApp is now used by more than 50 operators, who together submitted nearly 300 flight requests in the past four months. Insights into airspace usage proved crucial during a recent EASA visit. Additionally, the Port of Rotterdam is exploring ways to support operators flying near critical infrastructure.

Increase in Operators and Flight Requests

The U-Space Prototype project, which started over a year and a half ago with around 15 drone operators, has seen enormous growth. More than 50 operators have now requested the new WebApp, their Operational Authorization has been verified, and they have received login details. More customers in the port are using drone services. This, combined with quick access to Rotterdam’s airspace, has led to a significant increase in flight requests.

In the past four months, nearly 300 flight requests have been submitted, mostly for inspections, followed by marketing and photography applications, mapping, measurements, and other purposes. The maximum flight duration per request is currently eight hours, with the request to only apply for the needed time to avoid unnecessary airspace blockage.

Nearly 10% of all requests had a potential conflict with other flights. These potential conflict situations were all resolved through software or by intervention of the Port of Rotterdam’s Airspace Managers.

According to project leader Ingrid Römers, the Port of Rotterdam is already gaining good insights into airspace usage thanks to the U-Space prototype. “We are building a strong information position for the future and can really show EASA what we have achieved and the number of users we have. Every week we see a new request for the WebApp.”

EASA Visit and Software Integrations

On Tuesday, June 18, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management visited the Port of Rotterdam to discuss practical experiences with the U-Space Airspace prototype. Discussions included challenges posed by software integrations between drone control software and the UTM system. This issue is not unique to Rotterdam but is a global challenge and was the reason for temporarily working with a WebApp and using Airspace Managers to prevent conflicts.

The visit also discussed the availability of data for U-Space, such as information from manned aviation and non-cooperative drones, as well as data from the Port Authority such as ship information, weather information, and hazardous materials. The quality of this data and the conditions under which it can be provided were also discussed.

The meeting was valuable for all parties involved and will definitely have a follow-up. EASA stated that they are working on standards for more uniformity, specifically focusing on quality and certification requirements for provided APIs. This is necessary, as it has become clear that an API is not a ‘plug and play’ solution and always requires custom configurations.

Support for Flying Near Critical Infrastructure

With new rules for flying near critical infrastructure, such as terminals in the port area that fall within the ground risk buffer, operators are required to have a contact person from the manager of the critical infrastructure to discuss risks in advance. The Port Authority wants to assist with this and will consult with the terminals, often multinationals where it is not easy to find the right person and where there may still be much unknown about the potential and risks of flying drones.

Together with Mark Hullegie from Droneconsultancy, known to many operators for compiling manuals and SORAs, the Port Authority wants to help both drone operators and create uniformity in the port and raise awareness among companies about the increasing use of drones and the measures operators take against any risks associated with flights.

According to Ingrid Römers, in the future, especially with BVLOS flights, drones will increasingly fly over areas indirectly involved in the flight. Coordination and permission from companies in these areas will then be crucial. The Airwayz system can also play a role here, for example, by providing a warning if the ground risk buffer overlaps with an object of critical infrastructure.

Conclusion

These developments not only show the rapid growth and increasing complexity of drone operations in Rotterdam but also the progress in collaboration between various parties to ensure the safety and efficiency of the airspace.

The introduction of the WebApp and the ongoing dialogue with EASA, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, and other stakeholders underline the crucial steps being taken in integrating drones into the airspace above the Port of Rotterdam.

 

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Ingrid Römers

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

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