As we move towards a future where autonomous urban flight becomes technologically normalised, we need to develop a world that can welcome and support it. This means proving safety, efficacy, and economic viability for the technologies and the operational management systems supporting them.

In February 2016, Airbus Helicopters signed an agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore for “Project Skyways” to experiment with and develop the regulations, technologies, and operational requirements to safely operate a drone parcel delivery service in urban environments. The Unmanned Air System (UAS) developed by Airbus to meet such requirements will be first demonstrated on the campus of the National University of Singapore (NUS) in early 2018.

The Skyways UAS over the NUS campus aims to provide efficient delivery of small parcels to students and faculties using a “system-of-system” of drones, ground control systems, air navigation systems, operational procedures, and maintenance procedures that embodies aviation safety at the core of its design.  After this pilot test, we are hopeful that commercial projects will be possible to launch in the Asian city and to extend the testing to passenger transport.

The Skyways drone is a fully autonomous octocopter that flies parcels in containers located on its underside along routes called ‘aerial corridors’ to-and-from designated stations where it is automatically loaded or unloaded.  These “parcel stations” store the delivered parcels in lockers which a customer can open at any time once receiving notification on their smartphone of the arrival of their package. 

The success of Skyways will help evolve the regulatory and operational framework for the use of autonomous air vehicles in an urban area and be a first step towards self-piloted aircraft system operations in our future cities.

At this year’s Singapore Airshow, a fully-functioning Skyways autonomous parcel delivery drone will be on display, which is at an advanced stage of development in collaboration with partners in Singapore.