The test flights will offer Droniq and DFS their first opportunity to perform practical testing of the services required in order to establish a geographical area for drone flights (U-Space airspace), which are set to become mandatory as of 2023. Multiple flight scenarios are being used to simulate various activities, including the safe and coordinated interaction of manned and unmanned air traffic in the U-Space established in Hamburg. 

These for example include an emergency scenario, in which the drone pilot must react quickly to avoid a helicopter that is flying into the test area. Further scenarios then test multiple drone flights in parallel, including the process of logging in and out as well as route planning and subsequent flight execution. The drone pilots will be provided with a complete air situation display for their flight. This will allow them to recognise other airspace users in good time and react accordingly.

Visualisation of all airspace users
In the Sandbox, Droniq assumes the role of the U-Space service provider (USSP) responsible for coordinating drone traffic within the U-Space. The primary goals here are to secure electronic visibility of the drones and other air traffic in a common display of the air situation, as well as to allocate flight authorisations for drones and ensure dynamic updating of the airspace. To this end, Droniq uses the first fully operational air traffic management system for drones throughout Germany (UAS Traffic Management System, UTM), which was developed by DFS. DFS also provides Droniq with the airspace and air traffic data of manned aviation required for this. As such, DFS not only assumes the role of the so-called common information service provider (CISP) in the project, but also the role of air navigation service provider (ANSP) via Hamburg Tower as the competent air traffic control unit.

“To make full use of the economic potential offered by drones, it must be possible to integrate them into existing air traffic both easily and safely,” explained Droniq CEO Jan-Eric Putze. “The test flights mark the next step in achieving this. At the same time, we are working ever closer to our goal of positioning Droniq as the first USSP throughout Germany.” 

Germany leads the way
“We are showing here how an airspace for drones can be established in a modern and digital way,” added Arndt Schoenemann, Chief Executive Officer of DFS. “To integrate unmanned aviation safely into the aviation system, we are combining our experience in unmanned aviation with innovative technological solutions. Alongside drones, we will also experience important developments in other fields over the next few years as aviation is becoming increasingly autonomous. We are proud to be involved at the cutting edge here.” 

Hamburg's Senator for Economics and Innovation, Michael Westhagemann: “Hamburg already started using drones back in 2016. Various projects have since been launched, focusing on the transportation of tissue samples by a drone, a control unit for organising drone traffic or defence against non-cooperative drones at airports. Safe integration of drones was the top priority from the outset here. In close cooperation with numerous partners from Hamburg, the U-Space Sandbox represents an important milestone on the road to regular use of drones, particularly in the public interest, for example to support the fire brigade or for the transportation of medical goods.”

Sandbox as part of the Drone Action Plan
Networked and automated flying needs to be brought to practical, real-world maturity in order to help Germany further expand in its role as the leading unmanned aviation market with high safety standards. German Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer: “Drones are smart, fast and clean assistants. They are changing how we think about passenger transportation, logistics and supply chains, as they can be used to transport vital medicines, tools or parcels both quickly and efficiently over long distances. Drones supply rural areas and those that are otherwise hard to reach, offer valuable assistance when performing inspections of production equipment and infrastructure and also provide key support for rescue services, disaster relief and agricultural operations. For ‘made in Germany’ drone innovations to be used in practice, however, it must be possible to integrate them safely into existing airspace structures. This is precisely what we are doing with the so-called U-Space. Manned and unmanned aviation are networked intelligently with one another and made visible for everyone here. With the launch of the test flights, we are today firing up the innovation turbo and positioning ourselves as the world leader for the safe operation of unmanned aviation.”

The Sandbox covers 30 square kilometres of airspace above the Port of Hamburg. The test flights take place over the Steinwerder area as well as parts of Grasbrook. The U-Space Demonstrator at the Port of Hamburg is the first German test area for cooperative and coordinated flight operations with both unmanned and manned aircraft. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is sponsoring the establishment of the first U-Space Sandbox in Germany with just under EUR 500,000 in funding. The project is part of the Drone Action Plan presented by Federal Minister Scheuer in May 2020.

The Sandbox is being implemented together with highly qualified project partners. These include the Hamburg Port Authority AöR (HPA), HHLA Sky GmbH, the Hamburg Ministry of Economy and Innovation, Hamburg Aviation as well as the UDVeo project consortium. All aircraft movements will also be coordinated with the tower of DFS as these flights obviously need to be coordinated with low-flying traffic such as rescue helicopters.