The need for drones to improve airport operations

2 november 2020

Countries apply strict rules and regulations on the use of drones on and around airports. For obvious reasons such as air safety and the safety of people on the ground. Yet, drones improve operations – and security – immensely on airports. Is it time to rethink these drone policies?

Drones are becoming more and more part of everyday life. Film crews use them to get spectacular images, tests with drone deliveries are underway, first responders use drones at major incidents to get a better overview of the situation and in Belgium and China for instance, the police used drones to warn people about obeying social distance rules during the peak of lockdown in the Covid19 pandemic. To help with safety, governments have implemented strict rules for using drones, both for private and commercial use, as for government entities. Dutch firefighters for instance, cannot fly a drone to asses a burning structure if there are spectators in the vicinity.

Airport operations benefit from drones

The possibilities for the use of drones however, have great potential. Not in the least for support operations at airports. Runway inspections can be done faster and more efficient than they are done today by means of airport vehicles going down the runway. Parameter security can be improved, since drones can do random checks, rather than doing periodically like every hour. Drones can also help with maintenance if used inside hangars or on the ramp to perform close up inspections of aircraft. And since operating costs of a drone are relatively low, it is a cheap way of automating your airport operations.

New EU regulation comes into effect

As said, governments have implemented strict rules and regulations for the use of drones. From December 31, 2020, the new EU Regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) will come into effect. In this regulation, the distinction between private and commercial use will be removed; risk assessment of the flight is now leading. Besides that, operators require amongst others an operator certificate to be able to fly a drone, with more advanced training for specific types of drone. And the area of use will also be more specified. The new regulations are mostly designed to secure safety, when drones are airborne in populated areas.

Creating a safe space for drones

For airports to benefit from drone technology, the regulations are problematic. Should airports therefor have to get a form of dispensation of the new rules? Provided it builds in its own safety measures to assure safe use of drones. For instance, by the use of geofencing; a technique that creates a barrier based on GPS coordinates, over which the drone cannot fly. It can also make use of current regulations regarding windspeeds or other weather conditions. As well as seamless coordination with air traffic control, both ground and tower, to assure drones will not get in the way of aircraft.

Drone technology is developing rapidly and airport operations can benefit from these technologies when it comes to safety and handling. But with the current strict regulations, it can be hard to implement these new technologies. So, all stakeholders should get together to see what the possibilities and opportunities can be. We’re looking forward to help change these regulations and let the airports and airlines benefit of drone operations.

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