UK’s Falmouth harbour starts ship-to-shore drone flight trials

Drones have been flying over the UK’s Falmouth harbour this week as part of ship-to-shore flight trials carried out by Open Skies Cornwall – a UK Research and Innovation-Future Flight Challenge programme, delivered by Innovate UK. The flights are part of a series of trials testing Falmouth Harbour’s ground infrastructure, flying capabilities and airspace for future maritime-focused drone activities, such as the delivery of emergency medical, food, bunker samples or maintenance supplies.

“Following the successful conclusion of these trials, Open Skies Cornwall’s aspirations are to fly sorties for real-world use cases to large civilian vessels at strategic moorings in the Harbour,” said a press release. “They also aim to intercept vessels up to 50 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean/Celtic Sea, providing additional resilience connectivity for maritime workforces at sea.

“The trials identified four landing locations in Falmouth Harbour, and tested infrastructure in the harbour itself. New landing locations and flying routes along the Cornish coast towards Truro were also visited thanks to facilitation work along the upper reaches of the Fal Estuary by Port of Truro and Cornwall Council.

Gareth Whatmore, CEO of DronePrep and project lead for Open Skies Cornwall, said: “We’re pleased to have completed a successful round of ship-to-shore integration trials and have been delighted by the community’s positive engagement. Ship-to-shore flights offer huge potential to add value for Falmouth Harbour’s community but it’s important we work closely with all stakeholders to ensure those innovations operate safely and integrate smoothly with existing infrastructure.

Miles Carden, CEO at Falmouth Harbour, said: “The Open Skies Cornwall project was always a challenge to us as a Harbour Authority but the funding from Innovate UK is now realising some really exciting flight activity in the Harbour, which we hope will lead to dedicated airspace and commercial operations in the future. “The efficiency, safety and environmental benefits of using drones for commercial maritime activity are very exciting and could potentially drive significant additional economic value to Falmouth. We hope to accelerate the planned tests and use today’s operations as a springboard for new activity right through 2024.”

Open Skies Cornwall is part-funded by the UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge, delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Open Skies Cornwall’s maritime drone integration and flight trial programme has been planned in partnership with consortia partners DronePrep, Falmouth Harbour, Neuron Innovations and Skyports Drone Services. Both Skyports Drone Services and Falmouth Harbour agreed a suitable safety case and issued a Mariners Notice to help mariners integrate and deconflict with the trial activity. Open Skies Cornwall is a research and development project involving nine industry-leading companies (Cornwall Council, DronePrep, Falmouth Harbour, JHUBMED, Neuron, NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, Royal Mail, Skyports, University of Southampton).

Together, they aim to unlock four Cornish airspace environments for the next generation of unmanned aircraft while establishing a network of ‘Skyhighways’ to connect remote communities via drones.

Led by DronePrep, the project has received UKP2.4 million in funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge. This funding will be used to build ground and landing infrastructure, establish unmanned traffic management sensor networks, commission new unmanned aircraft, and establish Skyhighways to support medical and commodity delivery for the NHS, Royal Mail, Cornwall Council, JHUBMED, and multiple users of Falmouth Harbour.

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