In Belgium, the Port of Antwerp is the first seaport in the world to manage all drone traffic over its own territory. To this end, the port company has entered into a partnership with Unifly. Drone operators who wish to operate a flight over the port area must request permission in advance via an online portal. The port authority will also monitor unwanted drone flights.
Port of Antwerp world’s first seaport to manage all drone traffic
The mandate to manage drone traffic yourself stems from the new role of “geozone manager”. This means that the Antwerp Port Authority has control over the execution of all drone flights over its own airspace. This possibility arises from the new European regulations for drones, which came into effect on December 31, 2020. By means of zoning, it is possible to set locally deviating rules for drone pilots.
Drone operators who wish to operate a flight over the territory of the port company must request permission in advance via an online portal. Among other things, it must be stated where and for what purpose the flight will be carried out. Flying is only allowed after the port authority has issued an authorization. The goal is to ensure safety and prevent different drone missions from conflicting with each other.
To apply for authorization, an operator must first create an account and provide detailed information. For example, one must upload the license, and in the case of a flight in the Specific category, the correct license plus the underlying risk analysis (SORA). Contact details and proof of insurance must also be provided. Only then can a mission be scheduled.
For the underlying unmanned traffic management (UTM) technology, the Antwerp port authority has entered into a partnership with the Belgian company Unifly. In addition to the development of the drone portal, Unifly is also responsible for the development of the system that monitors all drone flights. As soon as a drone deviates from the specified flight route or as soon as a safety risk arises for another reason, the system immediately issues a warning. The system also warns against unwanted drones.
“Following the successful SAFIR project, Port of Antwerp has proven to be a world leader in innovation and is now implementing the world’s first UTM system for seaports. Thanks to our close cooperation with the Port of Antwerp, we have succeeded in developing the new UTM Seaports system in record time, ”said Unifly director Leon van de Pas.
Erwin Verstraelen, Chief Digital Information & Innovation Officer, Port of Antwerp is also enthusiastic: “We are now taking the necessary steps to build a seaport that is ready for an era in which drones will play a greater role in port operations. We are creating a drone ecosystem where stakeholders in the port can easily use drones in their daily activities. ”
The new role of Port of Antwerp as geozone manager is a good example of the possibilities that European drone regulations offer to manage drone flights in a decentralized manner. A number of European municipalities would also like to see a role for themselves in the future in order to be able to influence the use of the lower airspace by operators of drones.
However, drone operators fear a maze of different systems and local deviations, which makes it more complex to perform drone flights, especially when it comes to flights over longer distances. To prevent this, U-space must provide a uniform method of unmanned traffic management in the future. Recently, the legal foundation on which U-space is based was adopted by the European member states.
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