SAFIR consortium chosen to carry out U-space drone demonstrations in Belgium

Publication date: 
29 Oct 2018

The SAFIR consortium, a group of 13 public and private organisations, has been selected by Single European Sky ATM Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) to demonstrate integrated Drone Traffic Management for a broad range of drone operations in Belgium. The goal of the SAFIR project is to contribute to the EU regulatory process for drones and drive forward the deployment of interoperable, harmonised and standardised drone services across Europe.

The SAFIR consortium (Safe and Flexible Integration of Initial U-space Services in a Real Environment) consists of the following organisations: Unifly, Amazon Prime Air, Belgocontrol, DronePort, Proximus, the Port of Antwerp, Helicus, SABCA, Elia, High Eye, C-Astral, Tekever and Aveillant.
 
The objective of the demonstration is to help SESAR JU, the entity responsible for coordinating all EU research and development activity in Air Traffic Management, contribute to the European Commission’s U-space vision of ensuring safe and secure access to airspace for drones.

U-space is an enabling framework that will evolve over time to facilitate access to all classes of airspace and operating environments – to include congested airspace – while addressing an appropriate interface with manned aviation and air traffic control.  When fully deployed, a wide range of drone missions that are currently being restricted will be possible thanks to a sustainable and robust European ecosystem that is globally interoperable. The timing for U-space is critical given the speed at which the market is growing. The aim is to have foundation U-space services in place by 2019.
 
SAFIR will carry out multiple studies and demonstrations for drone operations that are viable, robust and ready-to-implement throughout Europe. These demonstrations will include surveillance flights (including container terminal inspection, oil spill inspection) in the Port of Antwerp, parcel delivery, medical inter-hospital transport, high voltage line mapping and pylon inspection. Further the use of telecommunication network technology for data communication with both manned aircraft and other unmanned aircraft will be assessed. Finally, a radar system will be deployed capable of monitoring cooperative and non-cooperative drones.

The SAFIR project will demonstrate several U-services through the deployment of a multitude of drones. Simultaneously three main U-space service providers (USSP) will be controlling the airspace.
 
The SAFIR project activities will geographically cover two areas in Belgium. The first area is Sint-Truiden with the Drone Test Centre of DronePort. The second area is the larger Antwerp area, including the Port of Antwerp.

Erwin Verstraelen, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer, Antwerp Port Authority: “Innovation and digitization are crucial if our harbour is to stay sustainably competitive in the long term. Drones will become indispensable in the near future, not least in our port, to support our role as operator and regulator. Furthermore, in our role of community builder, we facilitate the use of drones as much as possible for all stakeholders. Given the particular nature of our port, this has to be done in a safe manner. Through our participation in the SAFIR consortium, we are confirming our pioneering role and ambition to be an open and innovative hub that institutionalizes new technologies.”
 
Marc Kegelaers, CEO from Unifly, said: “SAFIR consortium partners are honoured to be selected for this innovative demonstration programme. While the consortium represents a broad range of use cases and services, we are united in one key aspect: an unyielding commitment to safety. We are excited about the innovations in the unmanned industry our group can bring to Europe. We will work diligently with our partners to ensure all operations are rooted in safe practices from day one.”
 
Johan Decuyper, CEO of Belgocontrol: “Belgocontrol is committed not only to its mission to ensure air traffic safety but also to our societal role of contributing to ecological goals, innovation, research, and economical evolutions. We are fully aware of the enormous potential of the drone sector and want to help develop it in Belgium and Europe in accordance with safety of air traffic.”
 
“Amazon supports the European Commission’s efforts to create a programme aimed at keeping the EU at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation,” said Gur Kimchi, Vice President of Amazon Prime Air. “At Amazon Prime Air, we’re focused on developing a safe, federated, and scalable airspace management model for autonomous systems, and we look forward to working with SESAR and EASA to make this a reality.”
 
Johan Maricq, Strategy & Innovation from Elia Group, said: “Moving forward with testing shared air space for new usage is definitely of high interest for the industry. As a utility company owning a large and critical infrastructure, being able to use unmanned aircraft for our activities is key to ensure a reliable and affordable operation of the grid in all circumstances.”

The consortium is funded by the SESAR JU within the framework of the EU’s Connected Europe Facility.
 
SAFIR CONSORTIUM MEMBERS
 
Lead consortium coordinator is Unifly, a global leader in the field of Unmanned Traffic Management based in Belgium. The Unifly platform connects authorities with pilots to safely integrate drones into the airspace. Authorities can visualize and approve drone flights and manage no-fly zones in real-time. Drone pilots can manage their drones and they can plan and receive flight approvals in line with international and local regulation.
 
www.unifly.aero
 
Amazon Prime Air — a delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using drones. Prime Air has great potential to enhance the services Amazon already provides to millions of customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system.
 
www.amazon.com/primeair
 
 
Belgocontrol is Belgium's national air navigation service provider, in charge of the safety of air traffic in the civil airspace above Belgium and part of Luxemburg and on six national airports.
 
www.belgocontrol.be
 
DronePort is a Belgian ecosystem providing infrastructure and services to facilitate research, innovation and entrepreneurship in manned and unmanned aviation. DronePort Incubator is the home for start-ups, organizations and research teams developing, producing or servicing this new market. The test facilities guarantee segregated airspace giving the opportunity to train pilots and test and demonstrate new applications to customers in agriculture, construction, safety, logistics, etc. DronePort is developing a 15ha industry park located at Sint-Truiden with a specific focus on the aerospace and UAS industry.
 
www.droneport.eu
Proximus Group is a telecommunication & ICT company operating in the Belgian and international markets, serving residential customers, companies and public institutions. Proximus’ ambition is to become a digital service provider, connecting everyone and everything so people live better and work smarter. Through its efficient, integrated fixed and mobile networks, Proximus provides access, anywhere and anytime, to digital services and user-friendly solutions, as well as to a broad offering of  multimedia content.
 
www.proximus.com and www.proximus.be
 
Port of Antwerp. As Europe's second-largest port, the Port of Antwerp is a major lifeline for the Belgian economy: more than 300 line services to over 800 destinations ensure global connectivity. The Port of Antwerp annually handles around 224 million tonnes of international maritime freight, and is home to Europe's largest integrated chemical cluster. The Port of Antwerp accounts, directly and indirectly, for a total of around 143,000 jobs and more than €20 billion added value.

www.portofantwerp.com
 
Helicus operates medical drone based transport solutions. As a platform integrator Helicus works together with air traffic control authorities, health care organisations and industrial actors to offer a complete medical transport solution.
 
www.helicus.aero
 
SABCA is a key Belgian aerospace company founded in 1920. It has built an extensive and varied know-how based on its 95+ years of experience in designing, building, maintaining, and upgrading large and complex elements for aircraft and space launchers. Its customers and partners are key players in the global aerospace market. SABCA offers a complete range of services to the UAS market such as platform design and manufacturing, ground- and flight testing, UAS qualification and certification, maintenance & payload integration
 
www.sabca.be
 
Elia Group is active in electricity transmission. It ensures that generation and consumption are balanced around the clock, supplying 30 million end users with electricity. With subsidiaries in Belgium (Elia) and north-east Germany (50Hertz), it operates 18,600 km of high-voltage connections. As such, the group is one of Europe's top 5. With a reliability level of 99.99%, it gives society a robust power grid, which is important for socio-economic prosperity. It also aspires to be a catalyst for a successful energy transition towards a reliable, sustainable and affordable energy system. 
 
www.eliagroup.eu
 
 

High Eye, The Netherlands, is an industrial VTOL UAV manufacturer specialized in long range flights.
 
www.higheye.com
 
C-Astral, Slovenia, is a manufacturer of long-endurance drones for civil and military applications, and an aerospace solutions provider.
 
www.c-astral.com
 
Tekever, Portugal, is a drone OEM and technology provider specialized in the fields of Aeronautics, Space, Defense and Security.

www.tekever.com
 
Aveillant, UK, part of the Thales group, offers radar technology for the ground-based detection of drones.
 
www.aveillant.com
 
SESAR Joint Undertaking is the public-private partnership set up to transform air traffic management (ATM) into a more modular, scalable, automated, interoperable system that takes advantage of advances in digital and virtualisation technologies.
 
www.sesarju.eu