DroneQ Aerial Services conducts first EVLOS Drone Delivery flight on world’s largest ship: behind-the-scenes look

On Friday 22 May 2020, the pilot set up by Dutch Drone Delta, Allseas and the Port of Rotterdam Authority took place: DroneQ Aerial Services successfully delivered parts to the largest ship in the world, the ‘Pioneering Spirit’ of Allseas, with a drone. This is the first time that a drone in the Netherlands delivers a package to a ship. The aim of this pilot is to see if and how drone delivery can contribute to more efficient transport in the Port of Rotterdam. A project of Dutch Drone Delta, which focuses on exploiting opportunities for the Netherlands in the field of passenger and freight transport by air with drones (Urban Air Mobility).

Safety is paramount when carrying out this pilot and that has required intensive preparation. Not only the legal framework was an important part of this, but also flight safety itself. A comprehensive risk analysis for these specific circumstances has been carried out. Things like the environment, flying over long distances beyond the sight distance of the drone pilot and flying over water require specific risk mitigation measures. Similarly, landing a drone in a high-metal environment, potential disturbances by radar and high-power transmission equipment on board the ship was factored into the risk analysis. Permits for flying over longer distances (EVLOS=Extended Visual Line Of Sight) require detailed operational procedures and emergency procedures, deployment and location of additional observers in the drone’s flight path, a communication plan for, during and after flight has been drawn up. The permission procedure of Port of Rotterdam has also been followed, as well as a procedure for the DroneQ observer to be allowed to board the Pioneering Spirit.

DroneQ has set up an extensive development and test program regarding the delivery of the package where the drone was equipped with a so-called payload delivery system which allows the pilot to release the payload remotely. The package in which the cargo was transported has also been designed, tested and optimized to ensure that the cargo has as little impact as possible on the drone’s flight performance and the cargo is protected to the maximum. On-site testing was part of this process to obtain maximum assurance that safety during the pilot would remain within the risk acceptance frameworks. The on-site testing was successful and did not give rise to modifications, an indication that the design, construction and testing process has proved effective.

Prior to the flight, an extensive briefing was held between the 5-member DroneQ drone team, reviewing every detail of the flight from second to second, communicating and conducting extensive monitoring of the drone system, in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Drone Operations Management platform developed by AirHub. Safety is paramount at DroneQ, Dutch Drone Delta and the port of Rotterdam!

The flight itself had an extra complexity as the weather gods did not cooperate and the flight was carried out with strong winds, wind force 6 with gusts of wind force 8. The point of delivery on the Pioneering Spirit creates its own thermals, which also varies at the different flight altitudes. It had been previously determined that at 10 meters above the helideck was the go-no go moment, a decision of the pilot at that time. The drone is equipped with a large amount of sensors and at 10 meters altitude the pilot keeps the drone stationary in place (type of dynamic positioning) and after controls, with special attention to interference by the many metal that drones are naturally sensitive to, was descended to the delivery point and released the payload, the drone has taken up altitude again and returned to the base.

The project has been a success thanks to the very enjoyable cooperation and enthusiastic efforts of all parties involved! This article describes only part of all preparations and implementation and is intended to give a high-over impression of such an operation. Despite the success of the pilot, an evaluation is still being carried out to go through everything in detail and to identify and execute any action points. We’re going to get ready for phase 2 again!

Useful links:

Port of Rotterdam press release: https://www.portofrotterdam.com/en/news-and-press-releases/premier-drone-delivers-package-to-vessel-in-the-port-of-rotterdam-for-the

Space53 coverage: https://www.space53.eu/cases/60/primeur-eerste-drone-pakketlevering-op-schip-in-rotterdamse-haven/

NOS newscast: https://vimeo.com/422103502