Israel Plans Massive Drone Delivery Test – With Hundreds of Flights a Day

Different drones from different companies will fly in the same airspace – and coordinate between themselves. If the trial is a success, it could pave the way for fleets of thousands if not tens of thousands drone delivery flights

Sagi Cohen
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A Zipline delivery drone releases its payload midair during a flight demonstration at an undisclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, U.S., May 5, 2016.
A Zipline delivery drone releases its payload midair during a flight demonstration at an undisclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, U.S., May 5, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Sagi Cohen

The government is continuing to try to promote delivery drones in Israel. The next big step is scheduled to take place in March, when a large-scale test run will take place in central Israel and will see 20 drones from five different companies fly over a single urban airspace. 

The goal of the test is to understand how it is possible to solve the main obstacle facing delivery drones: The creation of a technological and regulatory infrastructure that will enable a large number of companies to fly hundreds, or even thousands, of drones in a relatively small urban area, in a coordinated and synchronized manner in real time – to prevent accidents.

If the trial is deemed a success, it could pave the way for future operation of commercial fleets of delivery drones from a large number of companies in Israel. The fleets which would operate simultaneously and deliver items such as packages, mail, medicine, medical equipment, food and all sorts of other goods. 

A number of pilot programs were conducted during 2020 using delivery drones for sending medicines and coronavirus tests, mostly in medical centers, and as of now 700 flights have been carried out as part of these pilot programs. The next test will begin in March in agricultural areas around Hadera, a city near the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The pilot will be expanded in June to urban areas with low-rise buildings. 

In the first stage, each company participating in the trial will fly only in a specially designated area, and later the flights will be expanded to a single, shared airspace. Every company will carry out about 60 flights a day, or 300 in total per day – thousands every two weeks.

Israel plans massive drone delivery test - with hundreds of flights a day over the central city of Hadera this coming MarchCredit: Dror Ben David, Matrix

The companies will share information in real time about the flight paths using a central, managed database to maintain full coordination between the flights and ensure the drones do not get too close to one another. Coordinating between different companies flying different drones in the same airspace is considered to be quite a complex technological task.  The ability of the drones to handle different scenarios which could lead to accidents, such as coming close to another, or dealing with a helicopter that enters their airspace, are examples of the tests involved in the pilot.

The test is being launched by the Israel Urban Air Mobility Initiative (known by its Hebrew acronym Na’ama), under the auspices of the government’s Israel Innovation Authority. The initiative was established by the state-owned Ayalon Highways company, in cooperation with the Transportation Ministry, Civil Aviation Authority, and the Alternative Fuels Administration and Smart Mobility initiative in the Prime Minister’s Office, with the goal of opening Israel’s skies to delivery drones and to create the regulatory and commercial conditions for the Israeli drone sector in coming years.    

Sagi Dagan, the vice president for growth of the Innovation Authority, said the drone tests require advancing regulatory changes. “Today, in order to receive a flight path from the Civil Aviation Administration, a week is needed. Here we are moving into an approval time of one second to allow hundreds of flights a day and later thousands and tens of thousands of flights a day. There are high safety demands and if we address them then at the end of the year, Israel will be the world leader in flying multiple drones in a shared environment,” said Dagan.

Sagi Dagan of Israel's Innovation Authority, says: 'Now approval for a drone flight takes a week. If the test succeeds, it will take one second.'Credit: Shlomi Amsalem/GPO

The five companies participating in the test were chosen in a competitive call for proposals, which invited firms to submit requests for grants as part of the “pilot programs for testing and demonstrating drone technologies in managed airspace.” 

The winning companies will receive grants of 6 million shekels ($1.8 million) from the Innovation Authority for the pilot program, which is estimated to be 50 percent of their costs for the program. The total cost of the test programs is estimated at 20 million shekels. Most of this amount will come from the Innovation Authority’s budget and Ayalon Highways, alongside the millions invested by the five companies.

The five companies are: High Lander Aviation, along with Cando Drones; HarTech Technologies along with CopterPix; Simplex-c2 along with Down Wind; Airways Drones; and F.T.

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