Technical improvements required to resume Swiss Post drone healthcare deliveries

Swiss Post has carried out over 3,000 drone deliveries of healthcare consignments in Lugano, Berne and Zurich in cooperation with drone manufacturer Matternet. However the postal company suspended services for a second time in May 2019, after a drone crashed in woods in Zurich University quarter. This was only shortly after services had resumed following an earlier incident in January 2019, when a drone carrying laboratory samples was forced to make a controlled emergency landing on Lake Zurich. In response to the report published by the Swiss Transportation Safety Investigation Board (STSB) in mid-June 2019, Swiss Post has announced a series of safety processes which “aim to align its risk and safety management with normal aviation standards”.

Swiss Post is putting in place a board of aviation experts to advise and guide on all aspects of the drone flight operations in the future. It includes independent experts, manufacturers, Swiss Post and customers. In addition, Swiss Post has asked Matternet to implement urgent measures, and has integrated additional safety margins in the wind limits for flight operations. The limits are now 20% lower than the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) requirements.

  • The limit for constant wind is now 6 m/s instead of 8 m/s
  • The limit for gusts of wind is now 10 m/s rather than 12 m/s
  • The maximum speed of the drone will be reduced from 20 m/s to 17 m/s

Transporting urgent consignments such as laboratory samples remains at the heart of drone logistics for Swiss Post, and the organisation plans to continue to use drone technology in future. The company believes drones can make an important contribution to efficient healthcare: delivering urgently required consignments more quickly, efficiently and ecologically than a courier travelling by road. In addition, they have high operational availability, which is important for the healthcare sector.

The STSB continues to investigate the causes and circumstances that led the flight cancellation system to be activated in May, but published an interim report on 17 June 2019 with a number of safety recommendations. The flight abort system comprising an emergency parachute and audio alarm was triggered automatically, however the line connecting the parachute snapped, causing the drone to crash into trees. The audible warning signal was not heard by people near the crash site.

The STSB recommended the FOCA requirement for the emergency parachute is designed to withstand loads; and the audio alarm can be heard by third parties on the ground.

Swiss Post has also introduced requirements for drone manufacturers, including:

  • Parachute ropes are reinforced with metal braiding
  • Parachutes are attached with two ropes rather than one
  • The whistle to alert third parties in the case of an emergency landing is made louder

Swiss Post is committed to supporting safe and efficiency flights for healthcare services, and plans to resume operations once all additional safety requirements are implemented and tested.

(Image: Swiss Post)

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