Joining the CAA Regulatory Sandbox to make drone deliveries a reality

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the potential role that unmanned aircraft delivery systems can play in limiting human contact, keeping goods moving to our essential services like hospitals, and ensuring some of our hardest-to-reach communities remain connected.

Deploying delivery drones to carry out these important functions is easier said than done.  To achieve permanent commercial operation of drone delivery services at scale, unmanned aircraft need to operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in airspace shared with other users.  Restricting delivery flights to separate ‘segregated’ airspace away from other aircraft, the norm today for safety reasons, severely hinders the available routes,  frequency and range of services.

Regulators around the world are already aware of this problem.   They are looking at innovative ways in which to work with the unmanned aircraft industry to unlock the potential of this rapidly-advancing technology.  The UK is no exception and grasped the nettle in 2019 when its Innovation Team issued a challenge to industry to come forward with suggestions for how drones could be operated BVLOS within non-segregated airspace, for the benefit of communities across the UK.

As a drone delivery service provider, the CAA call for participants in its Regulatory Sandbox programme was an ideal opportunity for Skyports to help the regulator develop a means to grant approval for a system that would enable the safe integration of delivery drones in shared airspace.  Last week, we were proud to announce that Skyports, along with its project partners, had been successfully onboarded into the Regulatory Sandbox to trial our solution.

Skyports joins other leading organisations such as Amazon, Volocopter, NATS, NESTA, Altitude Angel and Sees.Ai in the  Sandbox who are also progressing their ground-breaking work in unmanned aviation.

The Skyports solution for safe integration of BVLOS flights in non-segregated airspace is based on the use of Iris Automation’s world-leading Detect & Avoid Technology – Casia. Casia has already been used in approved BVLOS flights across the US, Canada and South Africa and we are excited to bring this technology to the UK and the CAA Regulatory Sandbox. Through the use of Casia, Skyports delivery drones will automatically understand the surrounding skies and independently react as if a pilot were on board. This is the critical step required to make drone deliveries a day-to-day reality. We are also working with our technology partner Thales to provide cutting-edge, secure remote electronic identification (Remote ID) and flight management services.

Equally important is ensuring that our drone delivery operations have the social license to operate. We are working with leading environmental consultancy RSK to help us monitor the potential impacts, both positive and negative, to the communities that we operate in. While our drones are some of the quietest on the market, we have to ensure we have a dialogue with the people in the communities we operate within.

As for the drone platform itself, Skyports will be deploying its fixed-wing delivery drone capable of moving cargo payloads of up to 5kg over a distance of up to 100km, ideal for operations in more rural, remote and challenging environments, as well as providing experienced remote pilots and ground equipment.

Skyports has ambitious plans and the operational means of providing permanent drone delivery services at scale. Working with our partners, such as those in the healthcare and medical sectors, increases the efficiency of supply chains and improves the quality of care being provided to local communities, particularly those that are hard to reach.  We believe the lessons that all parties will learn from our involvement in the Regulatory Sandbox will provide a viable route for operators like Skyports to introduce our services across the UK for the benefit of rural communities.

As for the Covid-19 crisis, the future remains uncertain even after ‘lockdown’ comes to an end.  Social distancing is likely to continue for months to come, those most at risk may have to remain quarantined at home and future waves remain a threat of the virus returning. Healthcare providers will need to continue to reach the most vulnerable in their communities and keep supplies flowing within these new conditions.  Skyports can help by serving multiple destinations or create high-frequency transports to an individual site. Creating these “air-bridges” ensures that essential supplies such as PPE, medicine and testing kits could be distributed across our communities to ensure that everyone, regardless of location, has access to high quality healthcare regardless of the challenging situation.

To be part of our exciting journey, please get in touch!