In order to

promote security in the Rotterdam port area, the Port of Rotterdam Authority wants to use drones in the future to supervise and carry out inspections. In preparation for this, several test flights were recently carried out with a fixed-wing drone from the Dutch company Avy. A temporary drone command center even appeared on the quay of the Yangtzekcanal.

Pilot project

The port of Rotterdam is one of the largest seaports in the world. This brings with it the necessary challenges in the field of safety and maintenance. For example, the portmaster alone has a considerable range of tasks: such as supervision of sea and inland waterway inspections such as bunkering, water pollution, board-board transshipment, zoning /hazardous substances, shore board transshipment, air pollution (smoke/soot) and repair on board ships.

To make the port safer, smarter and faster, we regularly experiment with innovative technologies, including drones. To this end, last week, a piece of the quay on the Yangtzekanaal was converted into a drone port. During the demo week, several drone flights were carried out in the Amalia, Ariane and Alexa ports. The camera was also tested that must keep a view of port activities and inspections of port assets – such as quay walls – of the Port Authority Rotterdam Authority during the drone flights.

For this pilot, the Avy Aera fixed-wing drone was deployed. This drone can travel longer distances at higher speed, allowing 2 to 3 devices to cover the entire port and the drone can be on site very quickly in case of incidents. As a result, the commitment is interesting for various types of activities of the Port Master Division; handling incidents, smarter patrol sailing, inspection and supervision of ship activities, port security and also traffic handling.

Next trial

There was a great deal of interest in the various demonstrations, especially from the corner of public administrations such as the food and consumer goods authority, rail and network managers, as well as logistics service providers, agencies and shipping companies. At the beginning of 2022, the next long-term drone operation will follow; over a period of 5 months, flights will be carried out on a weekly basis. External parties can also submit test requests for the deployment of drones.

For the trial period in 2022, a new Avy device will be deployed in combination with the Avy Docking Station. This system offers an even higher degree of autonomy and can handle heavier weather conditions. The drone station will then be placed at the Pistol Harbour at the Rotterdam Loodswezen, which further expands the flight area. New in that operation is the joint use of the same airspace by the helicopters of the pilot and drones; something that must be arranged clearly and safely in the future.

The intention is that the drones can eventually be controlled from the Port Coordination Center. In the future, other new developments will also be considered and tested, such as transporting parts and cargo samples so that they can be transported to ships in the future.

Airspace Management

The Port Authority of Rotterdam is not the only seaport that wants to use drones. For example, above the port area of Antwerp, inspection flights are already regularly carried out by autonomous flying drones. Port of Antwerp has even been designated by the Belgian government as a manager of regional airspace.

It is not that far in Rotterdam yet: in the Netherlands, there is no question of decentralization in the area of zoning. With the introduction of U-space, that may change and the Port of Rotterdam sees a role for itself, according to a company whitepaper.