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11 apr, 2024

First automated BVLOS drone flight at DronePort with perimeter inspection from Steenokkerzeel

DronePort in Sint-Truiden hosted a groundbreaking BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) drone flight for perimeter inspection, remotely controlled from Steenokkerzeel. This collaborative project, part of the 'U-space in Practice' event, signifies a major step in automated drone technology, demonstrating its potential for advanced, hard-to-reach inspections, and highlighting DronePort's commitment to integrating such technologies into practical applications.

U-space in practice

On Wednesday, April 10, DronePort in Sint-Truiden hosted its first fully automated drone flight, where the drone operated beyond the pilot’s line of sight. The goal was a remote perimeter inspection, conducted from SkeyDrone in Steenokkerzeel. This test was a collaboration between Brussels Airport, Airport Intelligence, SkeyDrone, and DronePort, conducted as part of the ‘U-space in Practice’ event to mark Belgium’s presidency of the European Union.

Drone technology offers numerous possibilities and is an integral part of the future of aviation and airspace. U-space, simply put, is the set of agreements and rules that enable fully automated drone flights on a large scale. The EU launched the U-space project in 2018 to create a safe low airspace for long-distance drone flights, with the U-space regulation becoming effective in 2023. Given Belgium’s leadership in the concrete implementation of a U-space airspace, the Federal Government organized the ‘U-space in Practice’ event on April 10 to celebrate the first anniversary of this regulation. At DronePort in Sint-Truiden, a drone operation was set up for this event.

DronePort, an industrial park and ecosystem for drone research and innovation, SkeyDrone, active in drone services and innovations like Advanced Air Mobility, Brussels Airport, the national airport that also focuses on drone technology and development and is a shareholder of SkeyDrone and DronePort, and Airport Intelligence, the consultancy subsidiary of Brussels Airport with expertise in safety and compliance in complex environments, presented this use case at the Havenhuis in Antwerp.

Remote perimeter inspections

The use case involves an automated perimeter inspection at the active airport area at DronePort, using a ‘drone in a box’ (DiaB) platform for what is called a ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) flight. This means the drone is not always within the pilot’s visual range, and in this case, the drone’s camera was operated from about 60 kilometers away, at SkeyDrone in Steenokkerzeel. Such BVLOS flights can be a solution for controls and inspections in various sectors and for hard-to-reach locations or large areas.

What’s unique about this test case is that, in the run-up to U-Space, such automated flights were already supported by a series of digital services set up by DronePort in collaboration with SkeyDrone, ensuring safety and full airport operations. Reliable detection of all air traffic near the airport – both drones and manned aircraft – and the use of a local flight management system were essential.

Living Lab

The advantage of such a “flying camera” that generates live images and can be controlled remotely is that it’s not limited to specific angles. It makes inspections more dynamic and offers an interesting alternative to fixed cameras, proving useful for inspection services. DronePort provides an ideal testing ground as a former airport. This use case was successful, and more such cases will follow to further align the capabilities of drones with market needs and develop and implement further drone solutions in the form of a living lab. DronePort aims to automate as many operations on the site as possible and to translate drone test cases into permanent practical applications.

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