Open Skies Cornwall drone testing at Falmouth – photo Falmouth Harbour
Drones have been flying over the UK’s first ‘drone-friendly’ harbour in Falmouth this week as part of ship-to-shore flight trials carried out by Open Skies Cornwall – a UK Research and Innovation-Future Flight Challenge programme, delivered by Innovate UK.
The flights are part of a series of trials testing Falmouth Harbour’s ground infrastructure, flying capabilities and airspace for future maritime-focused drone activities, such as the delivery of emergency medical, food, bunker samples or maintenance supplies.
Following the successful conclusion of these trials, Open Skies Cornwall’s aspirations are to fly sorties for real-world use cases to large civilian vessels at strategic moorings in the Harbour. They also aim to intercept vessels up to 50 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean/Celtic Sea, providing additional resilience connectivity for maritime workforces at sea.
The trials identified four landing locations in Falmouth Harbour, and tested infrastructure in the harbour itself. New landing locations and flying routes along the Cornish coast towards Truro were also visited thanks to facilitation work along the upper reaches of the Fal Estuary by Port of Truro and Cornwall Council.
Gareth Whatmore, CEO of DronePrep and project lead for Open Skies Cornwall, said: “We’re pleased to have completed a successful round of ship-to-shore integration trials and have been delighted by the community’s positive engagement.
“Ship-to-shore flights offer huge potential to add value for Falmouth Harbour’s community but it’s important we work closely with all stakeholders to ensure those innovations operate safely and integrate smoothly with existing infrastructure.
“Our consortia members have a wealth of experience delivering ship-to-shore drone flights around the world, but these trials are essential for designing and testing infrastructure and procedures specific to this harbour environment.”
Miles Carden, CEO at Falmouth Harbour, said: “The Open Skies Cornwall project was always a challenge to us as a Harbour Authority but the funding from Innovate UK is now realising some really exciting flight activity in the Harbour, which we hope will lead to dedicated airspace and commercial operations in the future.
“The efficiency, safety and environmental benefits of using drones for commercial maritime activity are very exciting and could potentially drive significant additional economic value to Falmouth. We hope to accelerate the planned tests and use today’s operations as a springboard for new activity right through 2024.”
Open Skies Cornwall is part-funded by the UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge, delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council.
Simon Masters, Deputy Director of the Future Flight Challenge, said: “Drones offer a range of operational and environmental benefits and their application to the UK’s maritime sector, across a wide range of use-cases is very welcome. This project is taking a lead on showcasing what can be achieved and highlighting the benefits of collaborative R&D. We welcome this important milestone and the opportunities it will encourage moving forwards.”
Rhys Gittoes, Open Skies Cornwall project lead at Skyports Drone Services, added: “We’ve been operating commercial ship-to-shore drone deliveries in Singapore since 2022, providing a safer, faster, more sustainable link between the shore and vessels in the port.
“Our flights in Falmouth Harbour are part of our broader efforts to demonstrate, trial and test use cases for drone services across the UK.”
Open Skies Cornwall’s maritime drone integration and flight trial programme has been planned in partnership with consortia partners DronePrep, Falmouth Harbour, Neuron Innovations and Skyports Drone Services. Both Skyports Drone Services and Falmouth Harbour agreed a suitable safety case and issued a Mariners Notice to help mariners integrate and deconflict with the trial activity.
Open Skies Cornwall is a research and development project involving nine industry-leading companies (Cornwall Council, DronePrep, Falmouth Harbour, JHUBMED, Neuron, NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, Royal Mail, Skyports, University of Southampton).
Together, they aim to unlock four Cornish airspace environments for the next generation of unmanned aircraft while establishing a network of ‘Skyhighways’ to connect remote communities via drones.
Led by DronePrep, the project has received £2.4 million in funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge. This funding will be used to build ground and landing infrastructure, establish unmanned traffic management sensor networks, commission new unmanned aircraft, and establish Skyhighways to support medical and commodity delivery for the NHS, Royal Mail, Cornwall Council, JHUBMED, and multiple users of Falmouth Harbour.
This initiative aims to shape the future of drone logistics in the country.
About the Future Flight Challenge
The UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge is a £300 million programme, co-funded by government and industry, that is supporting the creation of the aviation ecosystem needed to accelerate the introduction of advanced air mobility (AAM), drones, and electric sub-regional aircraft in the UK.
Delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council, the programme works with industry, academia, government, and regulators to transform how we connect people, transport goods, and deliver services in a sustainable way that provides socio-economic benefits using new types of air vehicles with novel technologies.