Germany okays fully automated drone flights – it’s a first

Since last week, drones with a maximum weight of 25 kg have been flying on defined air routes over municipalities in western Germany. It is a breakthrough for aerial supplies operated above highly populated areas. To start with, 20 aerial routes have been identified but will be extended once the project is gaining traction.

Drone built by Third Element Aviation on way to a customer – image: company courtesy.

Lüdenscheid – a pioneer
The first results show that the drones beat terrestrial transports in many aspects: time efficiency, costs, and CO2 emissions. Although these are only preliminary results after 2 weeks of drone deployment, they are very encouraging for all the parties involved in the project.

The AURIOL transport drones (band name) operate across and about Lüdenscheid. This city’s name may not be immediately familiar to everyone, but with 72,000 inhabitants it belongs to the densely populated areas in North Rhine-Westphalia totaling 18.1 million, Germany’s traditional industrial heart. The AURIOLs are produced by nearby located startup Third Element Aviation (3EA). Operator is the company’s project partner, Lüdenscheid-based Koerschulte Group.

Thanks to the AURIOL drones purchased from provider Third Element, the wholesaler markets the arial supply of its large selection of assortments under the product name “Drone-as-a-Service”. The Group’s management has identified 20 different air routes for fast and fully automated delivery. It estimates that up to 80 flights per day can be operated once the project is in full swing. We plan all routes, organize the entire flight operation and fly our drones from destination to destination at the customer’s request, in a targeted manner and in the shortest possible time,” is the clear message to the market voiced by the Koerschulte Group.  

Typical products offered by the wholesaler fitting aerial supply are small industrial and consumer goods, medicines, laboratory samples, and urgent shipments.

End-to-end solution
The AURIOLs, while airborne, can fly max 45 minutes. They operate fully automatically and are certified by the German regulator Luftfahrt Bundesamt (LBA) for transporting shipments weighing up to 6.5 kg. Launching commercial flights with this specific drone is currently “the best just-in-time logistics obtainable in densely populated areas,” enthuses Marius Schröder, co-partner and Managing Director of drone manufacturer Third Element Aviation.

He adds to this that four rechargeable batteries make deliveries more sustainable than transporting shipments by road. The AURIOL has an integrated parachute for safety reasons – keyword: bird strike. Its average cruising speed is 65 km/h. 

Five euros per flight
“The last mile is always the most expensive and operational complicated because of the many roadworks, deviations, traffic jams, and speed limits. 50 meters above that, everything is free,” advocates Marius Schröder the use of eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle). His project partner, Norman Koerschulte, adds to this: “The fully automated logistics from collection to delivery simply makes all further processes more efficient for our customers. The civilian fields of application for the drone are almost unlimited, from B2B logistics to emergency logistics and far beyond.”

Koerschulte charges customers who book his drone delivery service five euros per mission. With the target of 80 fully automated flights per working day and very limited costs, this adds up to considerable sums at the end of a month.

Innovative Drone Control Center
The cooperation between the two project partners is based on a clear division of labor: Third Element manufactures the drones, Koerschulte buys and operates them commercially. The price range of Third Element’s eVTOL’s is between 20k and 50k euros, depending on model.

HHLA Sky, a subsidiary of Hamburg’s largest logistics company, HHLA, holds a 30% stake in Third Element. HHLA Sky uses the drones to monitor the port area beyond visual line of sight including logistics and traffic processes. In 2021, it won the German Innovation Award in the start-up category. It developed the first scalable Drone Control Center, which can simultaneously monitor and control more than 100 autonomous operating industrial drones.



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