Inter hospital transport by drone becomes reality

Helicus Aero Initiative (HAI) is putting in place a system that is able to transport medical parcels by drones between hospitals and their laboratories/pharmacies. The project, named MEDRONA, was selected for funding by the federal government. Inter hospital test flights will take place during the second part of 2019 in Antwerp urban airspace.

The aim of MEDRONA is to demonstrate a system that is able to transport medical parcels (e.g. human tissue, blood & urine samples and pharmacy preparations) in a reliable, ecological and efficient way. The project is designed to structurally expand today’s modal mix, taking traffic away from congested roads and using the underutilized capacity in the Very Low Level (VLL) airspace (between ground and 150 meters high). ​ Five companies have joined forces in this project: Belgocontrol, SABCA, Unifly, NSX and Helicus. ​ Each company will focus on a specific part of the overall solution. 

The MEDRONA partners (from the left to the right): Alex Shaposhnik (SABCA), Hendrik-Jan Van Der Gucht (Belgocontrol), Pieter Vandenbussche (Baloise), Mikael Shamim (Helicus), Jürgen Verstaen (Unifly), Jan Verelst (NSX), Steven Wille (SABCA) and Jean-Pierre De Muyt (Belgocontrol)
The MEDRONA partners (from the left to the right): Alex Shaposhnik (SABCA), Hendrik-Jan Van Der Gucht (Belgocontrol), Pieter Vandenbussche (Baloise), Mikael Shamim (Helicus), Jürgen Verstaen (Unifly), Jan Verelst (NSX), Steven Wille (SABCA) and Jean-Pierre De Muyt (Belgocontrol)
“Rather than setting up simple flights between hospitals, the project will offer sustainable solutions that are fully compliant with both air traffic management and healthcare regulations. ​ This service will enable hospitals to maintain high-quality services to their patients in times of congested road transport”, explains Mikael Shamim, Coordinator of the Helicus Aero Initiative.

Smart Mobility Belgium

The project was selected out of 136 candidate projects within the frame of Smart Mobility Belgium (SMB). SMB is a joint initiative of the Belgian federal minsters of Transport and Communication for projects aiming at smart and innovative mobility applications. It has a budget of 4 million euro. SMB will provide support to MEDRONA which constitutes the second phase of the Helicus Aero Initiative (HAI). This phase aims to build safety assessments for specific inter hospital flight corridors. ​ A series of test flights in 2019 should allow to obtain the regulatory approval for the future exploitation of the medical drone transport system in Antwerp.

 “We are very proud to be part of one of the selected projects. It underlines the interest that is expressed at different government levels and the growing belief that drones can bring a positive impact to society at large and its mobility challenges in particular,” says Hendrik-Jan Van Der Gucht, Manager Innovation at Belgocontrol, the Belgian Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP).

About the partners

Belgocontrol is an autonomous public company, created in October 1998, with the mission to guarantee the safety of air navigation in the airspace for which Belgium is responsible. Its zone of activities extends from ground level (at Brussels Airport and the airports of Antwerp, Charleroi, Kortrijk, Liege and Ostend) to flight level 245 (8,000 metres) above Belgium and from flight levels 145 to 245 for the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Unifly is the leading provider of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) software. Today, Unifly's technology is in use on a national level by four leading air navigation service providers (ANSPs), as well as in several regional projects throughout the world. Unifly also closely collaborates with major international corporations and ANSPs in 10 European UTM research projects, as well as with the FAA and with state authorities in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP).

SABCA is a key Belgian aerospace company founded in 1920. ​ It has built an extensive and varied know-how based on its 95+ years of experience in designing, building, maintaining, and upgrading large and complex elements for aircraft and space launchers. It's customers and partners are key players in the global aerospace market. SABCA offers a complete range of services to Unmanned Aviation Vehicle (UAV) market by transferring proven expertise in aircraft system integration, testing, qualification and certification to UAV systems. ​ SABCA will design & build the UAV platform for MEDRONA that will be used throughout the Helicus Aero Initiative.

NSX designs and engineers information systems, according to Normalized Systems theory, so they exhibit proven evolvability. ​ NSX has both developed the theory and proven in practice the value of normalized systems by effectively creating systems that are able to scale efficiently and run large data volumes. ​ This technology is used to develop the IT backbone of the Helicus Aero Initiative, which will be key to allow scaling when additional hospitals are added into the command & control system.

Helicus is a start-up company that aims to operate long term qualitative, ecological and affordable solutions for medical transport. ​ Helicus offers a common framework to coordinate and implement the competences of interested partners under the “Helicus Aero Initiative (HAI)”. ​ HAI effectively forms an eco-system of complementary companies the group their industrial strategy to jointly develop unmanned aerial solutions for the healthcare sector. ​ Phase one is a Proof of Concept (ending in a demonstration flight above the city of Antwerp). ​ Phase two (MEDRONA accepted under SMB) is an extended real life testing program as part of an operational Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system. ​ Phase Three will offer services to specific pilot hospitals.

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About skeyes

skeyes ensures the safety and efficiency of air traffic in Belgium 24/7. The skeyes air traffic controllers manage over 3,000 aircraft every day, which makes up over a million flight movements per year. The autonomous public company is active at the heart of Europe, in one of the busiest and most complex sections of airspace of the continent. skeyes is active at Brussels Airport and at the airports of Antwerp, Charleroi, Kortrijk, Liège and Ostend. Thanks to its CANAC 2 control centre skeyes manages the flight movements above Belgium and a part of Luxembourg up to an altitude of 7,500 metres (*). The company relies on its nearly 900 experienced staff members who are at the service of their customers: airline companies, airports, the aviation sector and the authorities. skeyes also develops innovating services regarding drones and contributes to a sustainable future of the aviation sector, among other things with respect to the environment.

skeyes is a member of FABEC, a joint airspace block (Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland) with the aim of improving air navigation efficiency in the heart of Europe in the framework of the Single European Sky.

(*) The upper airspace of the Benelux countries and North West Germany is managed jointly with the EUROCONTROL centre in Maastricht. 


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