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30 August 2022
One more European first in the SAFIR-Med Demonstration flights

The SAFIR-MED project performed its first flight demonstrations in Antwerp on the 23, 24, and 25 August.​

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Geert Vanhandenhove (Helicus), Dr Sabine Declercq (ZNA), Els Van Doesburg (city of Antwerp), Willeke Dijkhoffz (GZA), Mikael Shamim (Helicus) and Ulrich Weckx (SABCA) (Photo credit: Tim Cleys, Helicus) 

Following the de-risking exercises in Droneport (St Truiden) and the preparation flights during the summer, the SAFIR-Med Project conducted several flights over the city of Antwerp (Stad Antwerpen). Between August 23rd and 25th, Helicus operated a SABCA drone between the ZNA Middelheim, GZA Sint-Augustinus and UZA University hospitals transporting medical samples and human tissue over populated area Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), for the first time in Europe and a HyFly drone at the Sint-Augustinus hospital in a joint demonstration. The mission objectives were to gain real-life experience in flying in an urban environment, inside controlled airspace. Traffic deconflicting activities were executed between the UAV’s from HyFly and SABCA and monitored via the Helicus Command & Control Center, while skeyes, as Belgian ANSP, created an adapted airspace structure and implemented a dedicated coordination process with manned aviation, allowing safe demonstration. SkeyDrone ensured that U-Space requests sent from the Helicus C2C were processed using the Unifly UTM system.  

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Geert Vanhandenhove of Helicus hands over the human tissue to pathologist Sabine Declercq
(Photo credit: Dirk Kestens, ZNA)

On the 23rd of august Helicus operated the Sabca X8 drone as it transported human tissue from Middelheim hospital to the Sint-Augustinus where it was received by Dr Sabine Declercq, medical coordinator of the pathological anatomy laboratory at ZNA hospital group. This flight was also attended by Willeke Dijkhoffz, CEO of the GZA hospital group and Els Van Doesburg, Antwerp city alderman for healthcare as well as a large international press presence.

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Part of the international press and partners present during the human tissue flight (Credit ZNA Dirk Kestens)

On August 24th, HyFly conducted a pre-mission site survey, reducing the risk of failure by visible and invisible hazards, by checking for object obstructions and magnetic and radio frequency.

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HyFly and Helicus teams during de-risking at Sint-Augustinus hospital

(Photo credit: Tim Cleys, Helicus) 

On the 25th of August, HyFly and SABCA conducted the SAFIR-Med traffic deconflicting demonstration. In this real-life scenario, SABCA’s X8 drone was launched for BVLOS flights back and forth between Middelheim hospital and UZA University hospital and HyFly’s UAV for local flights at Sint-Augustinus hospital. Both flight scenarios were operated through the Helicus Command and Control Center. Helicus, NSX, Unifly, SABCA and HyFly collaborated on getting the Command & Control Center integrated with the UTM system as well as with the drones. This allowed for direct exchange of flight authorisation requests and approvals between C2C and UTM system and of flight plans and UA telemetry between C2C and the drones. All SAFIR-MED flights were validated and authorized through the Unifly UTM platform which is fully compliant with U-space. To guarantee safety, the UTM platform strategically deconflicted 

with other potential unmanned and manned flights simultaneously with SkeyDrone. 

This set-up was able to reduce the human workload and allows the capability for fast tactical deconfliction for which Delft University of Technology developed the automation based upon live traffic information. During these flights, the SABCA X8 drone carried blood-samples that are part of a clinical trial, executed by SGS, from the UZA university hospital to the clinical lab at the Middelheim hospital. 


SGS and Helicus team during the handover of the blood samples to be transported

(Photo credit: SGS)

To allow Traffic information coverage of the area, INVOLI receivers (G-1090) were installed on the Helicus building and next to the demonstration area while participating drones were equipped with INVOLI LEMAN Remote ID drone trackers. As such, accurate cooperative air traffic information was provided via interfaces to the operations through both the Helicus Command & Control Center, as well as to the UTM service provider SkeyDrone. This allowed Operator and USSP to visualize, track and manage the drones in real time and enabled tactical deconfliction. 


The integration of the INVOLI live traffic information with the UNIFLY UTM platform and the Helicus C2C created a better situational awareness which will be an enabler for future approvals. As a project partner aiming to facilitate the creation of safe Urban Air Mobility, INVOLI’s mission is to ensure safety-critical multi-provider situational awareness and thus mitigate tactical and strategical air risks during operations planning, simulation, flight authorization and demonstration.

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