Today, an Airbus Skyways drone loaded with 1.5 kg of cargo departed from the Marina South Pier in Singapore, and traveled a distance of 1.5 km where it landed on the ship deck of the M/V Pacific Centurion. After transferring its payload to the shipmaster, the Skyways drone returned to shore, completing the 3 km roundtrip delivery with a flight duration lasting just 10 minutes.
Although drone operations above densely populated urban areas, or near airports may face enduring regulatory scrutiny, niche operations such as today’s shore-to-ship delivery tread along on an easier path. Following the seamless delivery out at sea, Skyways will begin testing parcel deliveries overland in joint trials with the National University of Singapore.
Airbus Helicopters in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) jointly began developing the “Skyways” unmanned air system (UAS) back in early 2016, and unveiled the drone during last year’s Singapore Air Show. Airbus provides the design architecture for the Skyways program, while CAAS has been outlining the regulatory framework which will allow unmanned aircraft to operate in urban environments.
Returning to today’s trial, Wilhelmsen Ships Service first saw an opportunity to use drones at major seaports, and partnered with Airbus last year to develop a parcel delivery drone capable of making deliveries to ships at ports such as Singapore, companies like Wilhelmsen deliver spare parts and essential supplies from launch boats to ships docked in the harbor.
Incorporating drones into husbandry operations could boost delivery speed and safety if navigating congested channels were no longer a requirement. Drone deliveries from launch-boats will be up to six-times faster, and will reduce the incident of accidents, according to estimates from Airbus.
Through the Skyways program, Airbus hopes to test the waters for unmanned aircraft operations, potentially paving the way for use of larger autonomous aircraft. Leo Jeoh, head of Airbus Skyways, referred to maritime drone trials as a major milestone in the company’s urban drone endeavors, as the Skyways seeks to understand “what it takes to fly safe and reliable autonomous flying vehicles.”