The Packet: Falmouth has become the UK’s first ‘drone friendly’ harbour as part of a project to create ‘sky highways’ in Cornwall.
Ten companies and organisations are now involved in the Open Skies Cornwall project, which will begin with four initial ‘sky highways’ – the term given to the low-level flight corridors where drones can not only fly freely, but with purpose.
The aim is to connect remote communities by using drones for various uses – from supporting the delivery of medical supplies to parcel delivery services.
Now Open Skies Cornwall wants to hear from the general public about how they would like to see drones used, and landowners happy to have drones fly across their land.
As part of the launch of the project – a first for the UK – a test flight was carried out in Falmouth’s newly designed ‘Falmouth Harbour Maritime Drone Testbed Airspace Environment’.
The aim was to show what is possible with drones, with the aim of encouraging those using Falmouth’s harbour to sign up to the ship-to-shore trials that are scheduled to begin within the next two years.
Flying between three registered locations, the demonstration showed how electric cargo could be operated at the harbour for ship-to-shore deliveries.
It is a continuation of trials and demonstrations that took place in 2021, between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland.
During the launch event at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, the company DronePrep, which is leading the project, unveiled the Drone Delivery Register.
The online register will allow companies and organisations such as the Royal Mail, the NHS and Cornwall Council, as well as Falmouth Harbour users, vessel owners, landowners and businesses, to register take-off and landing locations for future drone deliveries.
Landowners can share permission to access land and assets, and allow the project partners to test low-level flight corridors, also known as ‘sky highways’.
In the future the register will show how people living in Cornwall can support the progress at a community level.
The initial consultation responses received by the register this month will help the project’s partner organisations – which include Skyports Drone Services, Royal Mail, the NHS and Falmouth Harbour – to use this new mode of transport to form part of a permanent offering of services in the future.
There is £2.4 million of research and development funding that has been given to Open Skies Cornwall, to help it test and consult on different ‘sky highway’ routes, before they are fully adopted at some point in the next two years.
The project was a winner in the UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge competition.
Third party organisations interested include the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (Search and Rescue) – which has recently commissioned £1billion of funding for the development of their air rescue services over the next ten years – as well as the Civil Aviation Authority Innovation team and the company Wholeship, which has already opened up an area the size of Luxembourg off the coast of Cornwall, specifically for the development of civilian autonomous drone and air taxi services.
Gareth Whatmore, CEO of DronePrep and project architect of Open Skies Cornwall, said: “As we enter 2023 it is very exciting to see the Open Skies Cornwall programme taking flight.
“The first demonstration flight within the Falmouth Harbour Testbed is the first of many pioneering flights in our unique airspace environments; over the next two years we will be using the intelligence gathered from the community via the Drone Delivery Register to plan for meaningful drone deliveries to support maritime, essential healthcare logistics and parcel delivery.
“I am looking forward to how our technology partners can work with communities to create sky-highways to better connect the region and create a logistics network fit for the 21st century.”