November 22, 2021
Delivering Sustainable Rural Logistics: Skyports Brings its Drone Delivery Service to the USA
By Alex Brown, Head of Drone Deliveries, Skyports
The Life-Enhancing Benefits Drone Deliveries Bring
Over the last few years we’ve seen the drone market achieve exponential growth. There are many reasons why there is so much interest in drone deliveries – the benefits are huge, both from a commercial and community aspect – but one of the most important benefits is that fully electrical drones have zero-carbon emissions – making them 100 percent environmentally friendly.
With a continuous increase in road traffic, drones will help relieve ground congestion by providing supply chains with a sustainable, efficient and cost-effective way to move goods. This doesn’t mean that drones will replace ground transportation, but in fact they’ll integrate into existing supply chains, enhancing operations, creating efficiencies and getting to places that are challenging for road vehicles, with ease. And this is fundamentally critical in hard-to-reach areas where it can take a delivery van hours and sometimes even days to reach.
There is a large population across the world that lives in such rural locations. For example, in Colombia there are some communities where people trek through the jungle for hours to get essential goods to the local communities. When I say essential goods, I mean real basic necessities such as food and medical supplies. We’ve recently partnered with Irelandia Aviation to bring drone deliveries to Colombia, taking on some really complex logistical challenges faced by the region. And rural Colombia is just one example. Here in the UK, where Skyports HQ is, there are also some very remote locations. Earlier this year, Skyports partnered with the National Health Service (NHS) in the Scottish Highlands where our drone delivery operations were set up to deliver critical PPE supplies during the pandemic and transport pathology samples and COVID tests. During this operation our service saved the NHS an incredible 12,000 hours in waiting and transport time for COVID-19 test and pathology samples during the three-month project period. That’s real benefit. 12,000 hours that patients got their results sooner and could commence treatment, understand whether they need to quarantine or not, and get rid of the “what if” anxiety that we all know when waiting for the results of a health test.
Sustainability is at the Heart of our Operations
Over the past few years Skyports has been setting up operations in multiple regions across the world. Increasingly we’re pushing these from limited duration proof of concept trials into permanent operations.
Our team in Singapore is flying (daily) BVLOS fully electrical flights for Singapore’s National Water Agency (the public utilities board – PUB) to help automate its inspection works, helping the utilities company save thousands of ‘people-hours’ each year and significantly reducing its carbon footprint.
Our drones are 100 percent electrical and where practical they’re charged using renewable energy too – this means we’re able to operate fully green, environmentally friendly flights. Like any other vehicle or plane, drones vary in capability and functionality too. For drones to really achieve their potential and become that next evolution in cargo transportation, they need to be capable of successfully and safely flying beyond visual line of sight. In simple terms, this means the drone flying (autonomously) away from the pilot’s vision, so much so, that it’s no longer in sight – the pilot cannot physically see the drone – this is when you truly achieve BVLOS flight.
Although drone deliveries is still a relatively new industry, operations have evolved and developed rapidly thanks to advancing technologies. Traditionally people thought of drones as something that’s operated by someone holding a remote control and flying the drone close to them (a bit like the remote control cars of yesterday) – this may still be the case for some drones, particularly those flown by enthusiasts “below the skyline,” as a hobby for example. But our professional cargo drones are very sophisticated and completely different. They don’t need an operator to fly them from close proximity, they’re operated by a Skyports pilot sat in a remote control centre (imagine an airspace traffic control tower) overseeing an automatic flight as it takes to the sky in a different location, flying safely and successfully up to 180km in rural environments and all sorts of weather conditions.
Safety is fundamentally critical. At Skyports our mantra is “safety-first” in everything we do. There are no shortcuts or easy ways of doing things. The aviation industry is heavily regulated, and quite rightly so too. And the safety of drones is even more paramount when you’re taking-off and landing near something like a Boeing 737 in shared-airspace, as our BVLOS drone deliveries did in Ireland from Shannon Airport on an hourly basis, testing last-mile cargo drone deliveries. This integration of manned and unmanned aviation is a critical next step in how unmanned technology can scale for the benefit of communities everywhere. And this is something that our in-house Regulations team is continuing to work on with stakeholders such as the Civil Aviation Authority and other regulatory bodies across the world.
During this year alone (2021), to-date, we’ve completed nearly 1,100 BVLOS flights, and these numbers will continue to rise between now and the end of the year. Our concept flight trials have proven the safety, due-diligence and reliability growth of our operations.
We’re continuing to grow our (environmentally friendly!) footprint in lots of locations across the world – focusing on those regions where the communities living there can benefit from life-enhancing services, connecting everyday people to critical supplies that should be easily accessible regardless of where they live.
We’ve partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MASSDOT) to bring our operations to the Massachusetts (MA) region in the United States. This year we’re undertaking a series of test flights and demonstrations showing how drone delivery operations can connect rural communities. We’re looking to move this into commencing permanent (daily) drone delivery operations in areas such as Cape Cod, as soon as we can, working closely with regulators and government. We’ll also be at this year’s Robotica UAS Summit, taking place at the Northeaster University in Burlington, MA, which is focused on ‘breaking down barriers to operationalization’ where we’ll be showcasing how our drone deliveries can bring critical connectivity to rural communities.
At Skyports we’re continuously pushing the boundaries and looking at what we can do differently, better and more efficiently. These operations (in the Cape) and ongoing projects across other parts of the world will increase in variety and scope, carrying different types of payloads (the weight and types of cargo being flown) for our customers, who each have unique requirements and needs. The Skyports operations model is a “drone airline” model, as in we do not manufacture the drones, but we work with the world’s best OEMs (drone manufacturers) such as Swoop Aero to fly their drones for the benefit of our customers. This means we are not tied to a particular type of technology or capability – our model enables us to bring the best technology solutions to our individual customers, solving a diverse range of supply chain and logistics challenges.