Eyes to the skies for drone test flights

15 December 2023

After a period of planning and stakeholder engagement in 2023, Drones are set to fly over Falmouth Harbour (subject to weather) on the 18 and 19 December when the Open Skies Cornwall (OSC) consortia begin a series of technical trials that will continue in 2024. The trials are part of plans to test ship-to-shore flights and prepare Falmouth Harbour’s ground infrastructure, flying procedures and airspace for drone activity to support maritime use cases identified by the Harbour and local stakeholders.

Open Skies Cornwall is a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge competition winner working to unlock low-level airspace to enable lifeline and commodity deliveries via drone.

The maritime drone integration and flight trial programme, which kicks off with the ship-to-shore proof of concept flight, has been planned in partnership with Open Skies Cornwall consortia partners DronePrep, Falmouth Harbour, Neuron Innovations and Skyports Drone Services. Both Skyports Drone Services and Falmouth Harbour agreed a suitable safety case and issued a Mariners Notice to help mariners integrate and deconflict with the trial activity.

Gareth Whatmore CEO of DronePrep and project lead for Open Skies Cornwall, said:
“After a year of hard work, we are very pleased to see the first of many trials in Falmouth Harbour. We hope that the initial proof of concept ship-to-shore tests, from the quayside to a barge in the Carrick Roads, will inspire the local maritime community to further engage with the project and help Falmouth Harbour and the project team create the right supporting infrastructure and procedures for more routine operations in the future.

“As part of the project we have two months of flying with our operational partner fully funded and we would be delighted to have cruise companies, shipping agents and merchant navy fleets engage and collaborate with the project to benefit from the investment UKRI has made in the harbour.”

Miles Carden, CEO at Falmouth Harbour, said: “Testing the possibility of drone deliveries to and from vessels is an incredibly exciting proposition for Falmouth Harbour. Whether medical supplies or deliveries, one can imagine the utility of commercial Ship-to-Shore drone operations.

“As the UK’s first ‘drone friendly’ harbour and an Open Skies Cornwall consortia partner, we’re excited by the opportunity the flights offer to test the technical parameters required, paving the way for future flights. As 2024 develops we will be working closely with DronePrep and our maritime community to define the correct locations for supporting infrastructure and to put the procedures in place to allow important users of the harbour to fly drones to support their work.”

UK drone operator Skyports Drone Services, developed the test flight safety plan and operated the test flights. The company is an experienced operator of ship-to-shore deliveries, operating daily from Singapore’s shores to cargo ships located in the Port of Singapore. Rhys Gittoes, Open Skies Cornwall project lead, Skyports Drone Services, added: “Our December flights with Falmouth Harbour are the latest in a series of flight tests and trials with the Open Skies Consortium that aim to stimulate the UK drone industry. With these flights, we’re demonstrating just some of the vast range of benefits that permanent, highly automated drone operations can deliver for businesses and communities across Cornwall and the rest of the UK.”

The latest test flight will take off from the Falmouth Harbour Customs House Quay , flying to a barge in the Carrick Roads towards St Mawes and back again. Falmouth Harbour pilot boats will be used to accommodate observers, ensuring the state-of-the-art drone is fully monitored at all times.
ENDS

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Notes to Editor:
Open Skies Cornwall is a research and development project involving nine industry-leading companies (Cornwall Council, DronePrep, Falmouth Harbour, JHUBMED, Neuron, NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, Royal Mail, Skyports, University of Southampton).

Together, they aim to unlock four Cornish airspace environments for the next generation of unmanned aircraft while establishing a network of ‘Skyhighways’ to connect remote communities via drones.

Led by DronePrep, the project has received £2.4 million in funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge. This funding will be used to build ground and landing infrastructure, establish unmanned traffic management sensor networks, commission new unmanned aircraft, and establish Skyhighways to support medical and commodity delivery for the NHS, Royal Mail, Cornwall Council, JHUBMED, and multiple users of Falmouth Harbour.

This initiative aims to shape the future of drone logistics in the country.