With eyes on delivery drone deployment, Israeli authorities conduct widescale tests
The skies got crowded as five private firms flew their drones to test the responses of a control room in Haifa, 56km away
The popularity of the cheap, low-flying drones, and their potential for ferrying anything from pizzas to prescription drugs between businesses and homes, has stirred fears of mid-air collisions or crashes that could cause casualties on the ground.
"This is an opportunity for the regulators to learn what is needed to establish delivery drones as a daily reality, and for the drone operators to learn what is expected of them in turn," said Hagit Lidor of the Israel Innovation Authority, one of several state agencies involved in the test.
In the first live trial of a two-year test phase launched in January, rural Hadera's airspace was turned over to five private firms that flew drones on criss-cross runs designed to test the responses of a control room in the city of Haifa, 56km (35 miles) away.
To keep the drones - which went up 20 at a time - no more than 120 metres (yards) above ground and no less than 60 metres (yards) apart, the control-room staff sent alerts and rerouting instructions to their operators electronically.
"For the first time, we are managing airspace as a single entity, synthesising drone operators with established civil and military aviation," said Lidor.
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She added regulated commercial drone deliveries in Israel were unlikely before 2023, when the testing is due to end and related matters like legislation would have to be addressed.
Organisers said helicopters or planes were not a planned part of Wednesday's trial but may be involved in a follow-up in June. Piloted aircraft more commonly seen at low altitudes around Hadera are crop-dusters and paragliders. The drones were told to steer clear of these by at least a 1km (half a mile).
All of the drones were equipped with parachutes, to ensure safe landings should they suffer malfunctions, Lidor added.
"A smart traffic management and air traffic control center that manages and prioritizes a number of drones flying simultaneously in one geographic airspace is a remarkable achievement, setting the stage for the future of mobility applications, a field in which Ayalon Highways is primed to play a leading role. This demonstration is part of a long list of technological and regulatory developments required for the commercial operation of a national low-altitude air traffic network for drones in urban settings," Itamar Ben Meir, CEO of Ayalon Highways, another partner in the test said.