By S.L. Fuller | April 20, 2017
Airbus Helicopters’ unmanned aircraft system package delivery project has taken a step forward, as it has named a logistics partner. Airbus said at Rotorcraft Asia that it and Singapore Post (SingPost) had signed a memorandum of understand for the project, which is part of Skyways.
SingPost can leverage its experience in software systems that control and manage delivery networks, customer-interface systems and real-time back-end links. The company also has understanding of postal and e-commerce logistics trends, and can assist in developing relevant solutions for the world market.
“Skyways was launched with the intent to provide highly efficient, reliable and seamless small parcel deliveries using drones in urban cities,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus Helicopters’ EVP of engineering and CTO. “The project has been progressing well, and we welcome SingPost onboard as our logistics partner in this critical phase as we work in tandem to develop a robust autonomous parcel delivery system that will revolutionize the logistics industry.”
As a whole, Skyways is one of Airbus’ urban mobility initiatives. It aims to “help evolve current regulatory constraints” regarding autonomous urban mobility. Like other companies with commercial drone initiatives, it has chosen to trial in a country without relatively complex airspace and drone restrictions.
UPS partnered with Zipline for a humanitarian drone delivery service in Rwanda. Jerome Ferguson, UPS director of autonomous systems, told our sister publication Avionics that there was a reason the company did not do its first trial in the U.S. UPS eventually completed a drone delivery exercise in Massachusetts, but it happened after its success in Rwanda.
“The test off the coast of Massachusetts was our first public U.S. demonstration of delivery of a small critical item from the mainland U.S. to a small island, and it gave us the chance to actually run an exercise in the U.S. as opposed to Africa,” Ferguson said. “The African skies are not as complicated as the U.S.; the rules and regulations are different.”
Airbus is working in cooperation with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). It has allowed the manufacturer to test this drone delivery on the campus of the National University of Singapore in early 2018. CAAS’ regulatory framework for drones derives from the Air Navigation Order and includes the Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Act of 2015.
Singapore requires a permit for recreational use of a drone more than 15 pounds, as well as for drones of any size used for commercial purposes. Drones also can’t carry hazardous material, fly over restricted areas, take photos of protected areas, or operate within 3 miles of an aerodrome or above 200 feet beyond 3 miles of an aerodrome. And, of course, operators are prohibited from using drones for malicious intent — especially around a special event area.
Airbus said its underlying intent is not to compete with other commercial drone delivery purposes in the region. Instead, Skyways is meant to prove out efficiency and economic effectiveness a drone delivery service could provide to urban areas while maintaining safety. Airbus said that if Skyways succeeds and is generally accepted, it could lead to passenger drones and expanded urban mobility.
“Drones and other autonomous vehicles are in the future of the logistics industry. The demonstrator that Airbus Helicopters and SingPost will be developing is designed to address real-world challenges such as safe and accurate flight in high-rise cities, while meeting the needs of customers,” said Mervyn Lim, SingPost’s Covering Group CEO. “Our trial will involve SingPost’s parcel locker technology, and this memorandum of understanding fits well into our long-term plans to develop future generations of parcel delivery points that involve drones and the vertical dimension. Together with Airbus Helicopters’ technologists, SingPost’s engineers will be working to ensure the concept meets the future logistics needs of urban environments like Singapore.”