10/07/2018 – Tech & Innovation / Maritime / Ports / Drones / Wilhelmsen / Airbus / Singapore

Bringing drone delivery to one of the world’s busiest ports

Pairing Wilhelmsen’s extensive ships agency expertise and robust safety standards, with Airbus’s expertise in aeronautical vertical lift solutions, the new ‘Agency by Air’ project will bring shore-to-ship drone delivery to Singapore – one of the busiest ports in the world.


Singapore port’s Marina South Pier has been chosen as the launch point for a two-week trial later this year that could prove a literal launchpad to dramatically enhanced efficiencies, reduced emissions and safer conditions for the maritime industry. That is the hope of Wilhelmsen Ships Service – the world’s largest ship agency network, which provides maritime logistics and port services in 2,200 ports worldwide. In the third quarter of this year, Wilhelmsen Ships Service and Airbus will pilot the delivery of spare parts, documents, water test kits and 3D printed consumables via Airbus’s Skyways unmanned air system (UAS) to vessels at anchorage.


With the signing of an MoU at the biennial maritime tradeshow Posidonia in Athens in June, the new Maritime UAS project agreement covers a joint ambition to establish a framework for co-operation between the two parties, with the aim of investigating the potential deployment and commercialisation of UAS for maritime delivery use cases.


Creating a buzz


The new project heralds the very first time that the viability of autonomous drone delivery to vessels has been put to the test in hectic, real-world port conditions. Nonetheless, Marius Johansen, VP Commercial (Ships Agency) at Wilhelmsen Ships Service is confident that with Airbus now onboard, his agency team’s long-term drone delivery aspirations will be fulfilled. 


“We are absolutely thrilled to be working with a forward-thinking, industry leader like Airbus,” he enthused. “When we announced last year that we were pursuing drone delivery, we were greeted with a fair amount of scepticism, but our collaboration with Airbus shows we really do mean business.”


With this step forward, Mr Johansen is confident that drones will become a game-changer in the agency and logistics business in the not-too-distant future.


Safer, greener and 90% cheaper


“As an outward looking company, eager to utilise technology to help improve our customers’ experiences, drone delivery is a perfect fit for our agency business. As part of our standard husbandry services, we organise the delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to master via launch boat day in and day out all over the world. However, delivery by drone is much more cost-effective, quicker, and frankly safer for all involved. Costing on average 90-per-cent less than launch boats, they importantly remove the risks inherently involved with making launch deliveries and also have negligible environmental impact.”


The new agreement sees Wilhelmsen Ships Service tasked with setting up the necessary maritime and port operations, gaining the relevant approvals from port authorities and securing maritime customers, while Airbus will take care of all the corresponding aviation approvals, and the running and maintenance of the UAS and its control systems.


“This collaboration with Wilhelmsen – the first of its kind in the region – gives us a unique test-bed where we can trial, refine and shape the future of shore-to-ship drone technologies,” advised Airbus’s Skyways lead, Leo Jeoh. “This also serves as an exciting opportunity to bring together the strong domain expertise of both Airbus and Wilhelmsen, to pioneer the future of UAS in the maritime industry.”


Two-week pilot trial


The culmination of over a year of planning and close collaboration between Wilhelmsen Ships Service and Airbus, involving the Singapore Maritime Port Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, the partnership will first see an initial two-week pilot trial with deliveries to ships anchored in Singapore’s eastern anchorage.


A command centre and a delivery centre will be set up at the pier to facilitate the deliveries, with an initial delivery range of up to 3km from the shoreline. A second delivery station will be positioned at an open space in Marina South to extend delivery coverage to more anchorage vessels.


Backed by the resources and expertise of the largest ships agency network in the world, combined with that of a US$59bn-revenue global leader in aeronautics, the new ‘Agency by Air’ project has been given arguably the best start and certainly presents a compelling proposition – from a safety, sustainability and economic perspective alike. Beyond the initial pilot and looking towards wider adoption by industry, it will be interesting to see to what extent the innovation takes off.

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