Drone must start detecting forest fires early in North Holland
As a result of rising temperatures and more periods of long drought, the chances of forest fires in the Netherlands will increase sharply in the coming years. To detect forest fires early on, Noord-Holland Noord Safety Region wants to use a drone that periodically flies around during periods of drought. To this end, a partnership has been entered into with drone builder Avy and CHC Helicopters in Den Helder.
The idea of using drones for early signaling arose during a brainstorming session between CHC and the fire brigade. “We currently operate far fewer flights to offshore platforms. So we are looking for other ways to use our knowledge of aviation. While talking, the idea arose to investigate the possibilities of using drones for forest fire prevention,” says Niels van Roon, UAS project lead at CHC.
The idea is to have a drone fly a round daily at fixed times over the dune area of North Holland, during periods of great drought. In principle, both take-off and landing and flying must be fully automatic. The system could be controlled and monitored from the CHC operations center. During a proof of concept project of six months, it was decided to find out what the possibilities are and where the bottlenecks lie.
To deliver the drones and an automated drone box, Avy from Amsterdam quickly came out. This company developed the Aera fixed-wing drone, which can take off and land like a multirotor. The drone is designed to cover longer distances and can be equipped with a thermal imager, with which fires can be detected.
For Avy, there are the necessary technical challenges to the project. Patrique Zaman, director of Avy: “For this project, it is important that beginning wildfires are observed at an early stage. That means you want to scan large areas of land per flight. To make that possible, we first need to examine at which angle the IR camera can best stand, and what the most optimal flight height is. We also want to investigate how the data can be processed automatically, so that a firefighter on the ground has immediately useful information.”
Also in the field of regulation, there are the necessary hordes to take: automatic flying from a drone box, flying out of the operator’s view (BVLOS), flying above Natura 2000 areas: all things that are basically possible under the new EASA legislation, but for which The necessary need to be arranged at national level.
But the mere fact that in principle only flown above nature reserves also brings with it possibilities. “Manned aviation must fly at least 500 feet (approx. 150 meters) high above Natura 2000, and the drone certainly flies lower. As a result, you have less risk of conflicts, by definition,” says Van Roon. “In addition, our drones are equipped with an ADS-B transponder. And we’re working on an integration with Altitude Angel’s UTM system,” adds Zaman.
The trial period is likely to start on April 1. “We are going to see if it is indeed technically possible to carry out flights above the intended area. First on location, then from our operations center. During the proof of concept period, CHC wants to gain knowledge and experience with regard to the deployment of drones. Other safety regions have also indicated that they are interested. They follow the project in which data is also shared,” says Van Roon.
For Avy, the pilot project was successful when more experience is gained with the automatic start and landing from a drone box, as well as performing remote operations. Knowledge of the automatic processing of data is also high on Zaman’s wish list.
The main goal is to prevent forest fires in the future. Zaman: “The risk of wildfires is just increasing. So it would be nice if the moment of intervention could be brought forward. Now it is often the case that at the time of detection, things have already escalated.”
(cover photo: vlnr: Q. Hergaarden (base manager CHC HN), P. Zaman (director Avy, K. Jong (team commander West-Friesland))