Skyways project staff from Airbus and Wilhelmsen share smiles with M/V Pacific Centurion crewmembers at anchorage in Singapore harbor after the c-drone delivered its cargo. Image: Wilhelmsen

Airbus trials shore-to-ship deliveries in Singapore with Skyways c-drone

Logistics • freight • delivery

The Skyways project, a collaboration between Airbus and Wilhelmsen Ships Services announced last June to test autonomous c-drone deliveries over water and in urban environments, has made its first shore-to-ship parcel delivery in Singapore harbor [video].

A variant of Airbus’ SN1 C1S drone flew autonomously in clear weather 1.5km (1mi) from Singapore’s Marina South Pier to and from the afterdeck of Swire Pacific Offshore’s M/V Pacific Centurion, an 86m (282ft), 3332t Anchor Handling Tug Supply (AHTS) vessel. The c-drone carried a 1.5kg payload of 3D-printed components sourced from Wilhelmsen/Ivaldi’s recently opened in-port micro factory. The drone, which can carry a 4kg (9lb) payload and fly in wind of 15knots (28km/h, 17mph), completed both legs of the delivery/return in under ten minutes.

Skyways is a “system of systems” with the partners having complementary roles. Airbus is contributing the drone’s design and manufacture, ground control stations, air navigation systems, and operational and maintenance procedures. Wilhelmsen, a major maritime logistics and port services concern headquartered in Singapore, is developing customer services and compliance of drone operations with maritime safety and security regulations for the Skyways project.

Wilhelmsen has been interested in drone services for its ships agency business for several years, estimating in 2017 that c-drones can reduce costs by up to 90% with a sixfold gain in productivity compared to traditional launch boats for urgent last-mile delivery shore-to-ship of critical documents, vital medical supplies, water or fuel test kits, small spare parts, 3D printed components, or even cash. The company believes savings throughout the shipping industry could total $675 million yearly while minimizing risk to personnel and reducing the carbon footprint.

The targeted vessel types for the initial trials are Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs) and Bulk Carriers (Handymax, Handysize). Singapore is the second busiest port in the world by TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit) volume, according to Lloyd’s List Maritime Intelligence, with over 100 vessel visits per day.

Airbus sidesteps the difficulty of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM or U-space) by establishing air corridors through which the drones fly, in coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). The Skyways project is part of Airbus’ Urban Air Mobility (UAM) strategy.

The next phase of the Skyways project will involve autonomous delivery of air parcels Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) in an urban environment at the National University of Singapore, where there will be several parcel stations including National University Hospital. The campus is located about 10km (6mi) from Marina South Pier.