While unauthorized drone operations near London Gatwick Airport (LGW) led the United Kingdom to tighten restrictions on near-airport operations earlier this year, Finland’s Helsinki Airport (HEL) is taking a more cooperative approach that could help launch urban drone deliveries. This week, U.K.-based drone infrastructure firm Skyports successfully completed urban environment drone delivery trials at HEL. These e-commerce deliveries were among the first to take place in an urban environment and in the immediate vicinity of a major international airport, according to the drone company.
From March 18 to March 20, Skyports offered consumers living in Vantaa, Finland, the option to have their parcels delivered by drones during the company’s pilot urban drone delivery program trials at HEL.
During the trials, the drones conducted around 100 deliveries of parcels, with each parcel weighing up to 1.5 kilos. The drones flew the parcels five kilometers from Skyports’ “vertiport” launch station, located at the Matkahuolto distribution terminal adjacent to HEL, to another Skyports vertiport set in one of two K-Market supermarket parking lots in Vantaa. Customers could retrieve their parcel deliveries immediately upon the drone’s landing at the designated parking lot vertiport. If the parcel recipient was not present, Skyports staff at the pick-up point retrieved the delivery for later collection by the customer.
Each of the drone flights and landings were fully automated, overseen by a commercial drone operator stationed at a flight control center in the center of Helsinki 14 kilometers away from the trials.
Skyports said that the company’s testing program is meant to demonstrate that cargo drones can provide an environmentally-sustainable, efficient and cost-effective alternative to road transportation that is easy and safe to integrate into urban traffic systems.
The company is also currently acquiring rooftop spaces across London and other cities to develop vertiports in anticipation of launching regular drone deliveries. How stricter regulations for drone operations in the U.K. might affect trials in the city remains to be seen.
HEL was chosen for the pilot tests due to fact that Finland has large amounts of free airspace and the most flexible drone regulations in Europe, or perhaps globally, drone expert Jukka Hannola of Finland’s Transport and Communication Agency said in a statement from Finavia Airports.
This spring, HEL will also host the European drone delivery service pilot program of Wing – a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.
Beyond drone operations HEL has recently reported an increase in general cargo activity at the airport. In 2018, HEL saw a 3.4 percent increase in cargo volumes moving through the airport to 207,381 tonnes, which continued the airport’s consistent growth in its cargo volumes over the past three years. The airport hosts regular scheduled flights from major cargo carriers including AirBridgeCargo, FedEx, UPS and Turkish Airlines, as well as ASL Airlines Belgium.
HEL-based carrier Finnair – traditionally a passenger airline – now conducts cargo operations from the airport, supported by its “COOL Nordic Cargo Hub” for pharmaceuticals and perishables it opened in 2017. In January, HEL also welcomed Juneyao Airlines and its direct daily flights from HEL to Shanghai (PVG) that will launch in June or July this year.
Source: Skyports and Vantaa city