Passenger drone transports medical cargo adjacent to populated areas to test automated operations

A large two-seat passenger drone transported heavy medical cargo through European airspace adjacent to populated area on 25 July 2023. The drone flight, a completely unmanned and automated mission, transported ten blood bags over 1-kilometer distance through DronePort’s proving airspace in Sint-Truiden, Belgium. The operation and test flights were coordinated by Belgian company Helicus, which is known for developing drone applications and technologies for aerial medical transport.

Helicus was among the first drone operators in Europe to successfully perform drone flights with human tissue and blood samples over populated areas, beyond the visual sight of the pilot. The passenger drone flight marks a new milestone by transporting medical content using a passenger drone weighing over 600kg. The Ehang 216 AAV from drone manufacturer EHang Holdings Limited has as many as 16 electric motors, reaches a cruising speed of 130 km/h and has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes.

The organization of this test flight was a collaboration between Helicus, EHang, DronePort and Blood Services Belgian Red Cross (French speaking community). The Belgian Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA), which had given prior approval for this operation, was also present to assess the course of the mission.

The drone was controlled by a computer that followed a predefined flight path laid out by Helicus. Safety pilots on the ground were on standby as an additional safety measure to ensure a smooth and safe operation. Helicus used their information interface to enable communication between the passenger drone and Helicus’ Command & Control center (C2C).

Mikael Shamim, CEO of Helicus said. “This flight was executed in line with EU legislation. For us, as airline operator, as well as for the civil aviation authorities, it allows us to build experiences how to safely handle this type of technology and operations”.

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