6 Dec 22

European Commission encourages drone deliveries and air taxis

European fleet managers may soon have to become air traffic controllers, after the European Commission (EC) placed last mile deliveries and air taxis at the heart of its new European Drone Strategy 2.0, unveiled at the end of last month.

The strategy sets out how Europe can pursue large-scale commercial air drone operations, envisaging thatdrone services will become part of everyday European life by 2030, with air taxis pencilled in for as early as the Paris Olympics in 2024.

The first applications for drone services, according to the EC, are: “Emergency services, mapping, imaging, inspection and surveillance within the applicable legal frameworks by civil drones, as well as the urgent delivery of small consignments, such as biological samples or medicines.”

The EC believes drone services will integrate or complement existing transportation systems and contribute to decarbonisation by providing an alternative to fossil fuel-powered modes of transport.

DHL drone deliveries

Logistics specialist DHL said there had been lots of unrealistic hype surrounding drone projects and protoypes, but added that drone technology is now ready to transform parcel delivery by adding a 'third dimension' to multimodal delivery networks.

DHL’s Parcelcopter 3.0 is a fully autonomous drone, capable of travelling at about 70km/h with a payload of up to 2kg. In a trial in Germany’s Bavarian mountains, the drone completed journeys within eight minutes of take-off that would have taken a van 30 minutes.

Jürgen Gerdes, Management Board Member for Post, eCommerce – Parcel at Deutsche Post DHL Group, said: “Drone technology has a vital part to play in the future of logistics. This could take the shape of deliveries of emergency medical supplies or deliveries to regions situated in a challenging geographical location. The Parcelcopter arguably allows us to offer people in such areas a new kind of access to the flexible and, most importantly, rapid dispatch and delivery of goods."

The Parcelcopter has been designed to deliver packages in hard-to-reach areas, but DHL’s ultimate aim is for drones to provide a same-day delivery service in towns and cities. 

Amazon click to delivery in 30 minutes

E-commerce giant Amazon has already built fully electric drones for its Prime Air delivery service in California and Texas, capable of carrying packages under 2.25kg (5lbs) from click to delivery in less than an hour. Last month, Amazon revealed its new MK30 drone (pictured above), due for launch in 2024, which is capable of flying in light rain.

“To sustainably deliver a vast selection of items in under an hour, and eventually within 30 minutes, at scale, drones are the most effective path to success,” said Amazon.

EC strategy

The EC’s strategy has identified 19 operational, technical and financial actions to build the regulatory and commercial environment for a successful drone air space and market.

These include adopting common rules for airworthiness, and new training requirements for remote and eVTOL (manned electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft pilots.

Adina Vălean, EC Commissioner for Transport, said: “With the arrival of a new generation of electrically powered aircraft capable of operating in an urban and regional environment, we need to ensure that, beyond maintaining the safety of operations in our skies, conditions meet both the operators’ commercial needs and citizens’ expectations with regard to privacy and security.”

She added that with the right framework in place, the drone services market in Europe could be worth €14.5 billion, and create 145,000 jobs, by 2030. The EU agreed in 2021 to invest more than €1.6 billion to accelerate the creation of a Digital European Sky, contributing to the safe integration of drone traffic within European airspace.

The ‘U-space' (‘U' stands for unmanned) to manage safe and efficient access to airspace for a large number of drones, will be operational in January 2023.

Air taxis

The EC also sees a mainstream future for innovative air mobility services, such as air taxis: “initially with a pilot on board, but with the ultimate aim of fully automating operations.”

“Air taxis provide regular transport services for passengers and goods and allow to cut down travel time,” said the EC. “Until now, air taxis have been operated by a pilot but one of the key objectives of the strategy is to fully automate these small aircraft. The Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 is one of the target dates for certain operators to start such pilotless transport services, but other initiatives are already underway in several European cities.”

Images: Shutterstock, Amazon

Authored by: Jonathan Manning