On Wednesday, April 10, SkeyDrone operated the first fully automated drone flight at DronePort in Sint-Truiden with the drone being out of the pilot’s line of sight. The objective of this flight was to conduct a remote perimeter inspection from the SkeyDrone operations center in Steenokkerzeel. This test was a collaboration between Brussels Airport, Airport Intelligence, SkeyDrone, and DronePort, organized as part of the ‘U-space in Practice’ event in light of Belgium’s presidency of the European Union.

Drone technology offers a wide range of possibilities and is an integral part of the future of aviation and airspace. U-space, in simple terms, refers to the set of agreements and rules enabling fully automated drone flights on a large scale. The EU launched the U-space project in 2018 to facilitate a safe low airspace for long-distance drone flights, and the U-space regulation became effective in 2023. Given Belgium’s leadership in the concrete implementation of a U-space airspace, the Federal Government organised the ‘U-space in Practice’ event to celebrate the first anniversary of this regulation. A drone operation was set up at DronePort in Sint-Truiden as part of this event.

Drone as a tool for remote perimeter inspections

The use case involved an automated perimeter inspection at the active airport premises at DronePort, using a ‘drone in a box’ (DiaB) platform to conduct what is called a ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) flight. This means that the drone is not always within the pilot’s line of sight, and in this case, the drone’s camera was operated approximately 60 kilometers away, at SkeyDrone in Steenokkerzeel. Such BVLOS flights can provide a solution for inspections in various sectors and for difficult-to-reach locations or areas with large surfaces.

The uniqueness of this test case lies in the fact that, in the lead-up to U-space, the flight was supported by a range of digital services established by DronePort in collaboration with SkeyDrone, ensuring safety and allowing the airport to remain fully operational. Reliable detection of all air traffic near the airport – both drones and crewed aircraft – and the use of a flight management system were crucial in this regard.

The advantage of such a “flying camera”, generating live images and controllable remotely, is that it is not limited to specific angles. It makes inspections more dynamic and provides an interesting alternative to fixed cameras, serving as a useful tool for inspection services. DronePort provides an ideal testing ground for this purpose as a former airport. This use case was successful, and similar ones will follow to align the capabilities of drones with market needs and further develop and implement drone solutions in the form of a living lab.