As part of the sustainability of Rotterdam The Hague Airport (RTHA), a solar park has been created, right next to the runway and runway. Dronewatch was asked to make aerial recordings of the new installation. For the first time in the Netherlands, a commercial drone flight was carried out over an active civil airport, without interfering with other air traffic.

Scoop

Until recently, it was unthinkable that drone flights could be carried out in the so-called inner rings of the CTRs around civil airports. But thanks to the introduction of European regulations for drones, this has recently changed. Operators in the Specific category can, in accordance with Air Traffic Control Netherlands (LVNL), in principle, perform drone flights anywhere in the CTR.

But a drone flight right above an active airport, without getting in the way of the other air traffic, that had not happened before. On Wednesday, March 2, Dronewatch had the first commercial drone flight over an active Dutch airport. It was Rotterdam The Hague Airport, with the aim to make video footage of the newly created solar park in the airport area.

Special procedures

Both LVNL and RTHA were involved in this drone flight. The starting point was that all other air traffic should not be inconvenienced by the drone operation. So there could be no question of a temporary airspace closure. In order to make drone flight possible, a number of special procedures were agreed. In addition to maintaining two-sided radio contact with the control tower, a geocage and maximum flight height was set on the drone. It was also agreed that the drone should be grounded within a minute after instruction from the air traffic controller.

The drone flights took place at the end of the afternoon, between take-offs and landings of scheduled flights and general aviation. At some point, there was even flown simultaneously with an incoming lifeliner. Thanks to active separation, both the drone and helicopter were able to fly unhindered.

Philip Beekman (LVNL) explains the special character of the trial: “Previously, we did trials like this, so at the airport itself, if we had ensured that there was no other traffic — whether there was almost no traffic at all due to corona. Now we have actively managed the flight and put other traffic no straw-wide in the way. Secondly, the airport was the client and Dronewatch carried out a commercial assignment with the new operating licence. Previously, these trials were fully focused on gaining experience and the drone flew as a test, but thus did not perform a function. Well now.”

For RTHA, drone flight was also educational. In the future, the airport wants to use drones, among other things, to inspect the runway. Also, it is important that the other air traffic is not inconvenienced by drone flights.

Ahmad Bakker (strategy & innovation RTHA): “Rotterdam The Hague Airport and Royal Schiphol Group thus reach an important point on the horizon of the Autonomous Airside 2050 innovation ambitions that started at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam during the pandemic ( experimental drone flights carried out in collaboration with, among others, the Dutch Drone Delta).”

Sustainability and energy transition

Aviation in the Netherlands represents an important task in the field of sustainability. Ultimately, the intention is that air transport can take place climate-neutral. This has the necessary consequences not only for air traffic itself, but also for all supported infrastructure, such as airports. RTHA and Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport (RHIA) actively cooperate with partners on making it more sustainable with various programs and 70 partners.

A solar park has been created at RTHA by cooperating partners that extends almost the entire length of the runway. Wiedo Mulder from RHIA: “By bringing together a cluster of several parties, it is possible to take steps both in energy supply, storage and in the development of new renewable energy (read: synthetic fuel, hydrogen). RHIA and partners strive to set up a Smart Energy Program. This makes it possible to shape the Next Generation Airport in the next 10 years. More information about this is available on the website of the RHIA Foundation.

A preview of the drone recordings of RTHA and its surroundings can be viewed below.

Inspection

Shortly after this first commercial drone flight, a first inspection of the runway was carried out with a drone, in collaboration with Air Traffic Control Netherlands, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Dura Vermeer and AirHub. The focus was also on the safe and efficient deployment of drones in airport areas where regular scheduled flights are not inconvenienced. This pilot phase follows previous drone flights that Dutch Drone Delta carried out at Schiphol Airport in 2020.