5 Major Ways Airports are Using Drones

When modern consumer drones started to enter the marketplace, fears were quickly raised regarding the safety of airplanes and the possibility of mid-air collisions.

Airport administrators were particularly concerned, since aircraft in the process of landing and taking off are especially at risk to UAVs. At least, when they’re operated by less than professional pilots violating airspace rules.

This created an environment where drones and airports simply didn’t mix.

Perhaps the best example of the potential for problems occurred in December 2018, at Gatwick Airport, just outside of London, England.

For two days, small drones were seen flying in and around the airport. In response to the potential danger, senior management for the airport closed the runway and suspended all flights.

The two-day event led to airlines losing around £50 million. Unfortunately, the drone pilots were never caught.

Thankfully, this narrative of fear is changing.

As UAV innovations continue to lower costs and improve efficiencies everywhere they’re adopted, it’s hard to dismiss the benefits of drones.

As pressures for saving time, money, and increasing safety rise, airports are quickly adopting drones for their business.

1. Drones Improve Airport FOD Inspections

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is a significant concern for anyone operating aircraft.

Runway debris can be drawn into aircraft engines, damage exterior surfaces, and is responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of damage every year. In the most extreme cases, FOD even leads to malfunctions that put people’s lives at risk.

Recently, the United States Navy invented a drone-based system for identifying FOD on runways.

The system works by means of a drone that captures pictures of the runway, which are then compared to reference images. The computer then identifies any variations which may be debris, and personnel are sent to remove the hazard.

This patent-pending technology may one day be a part of every airport’s normal operation.

2. Security

Security is a significant concern for airports.

Whether protecting people or the equipment and materials on-site, keeping these installations safe is no easy task. Some airports even have their own law enforcement and emergency services to handle this complex problem.

With many airports being massive in size, it’s an overwhelming challenge to monitor the perimeter on foot or even by vehicle.

Some airports, like Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in the United States, even have the added difficulty of swampland within their perimeter.

But when using drones, difficult terrain is no obstacle. And due to their speed, even the largest areas can be covered in a matter of minutes, far quicker than security personnel alone.

3. Deliveries

As regulatory agencies worldwide begin to integrate drones into their national airspaces, the potential for drone-based deliveries continues to shine brighter.

Airports are an ideal candidate to benefit from this UAV application.

With the need to move supplies, repair parts, luggage, and more, airports are challenged each day to get these items where they need to be.

For situations like this, drones significantly increase an airport’s logistic capabilities.

In the case of an Aircraft On Ground for example, time is money. Flying emergency parts to a hangar takes far less time than moving them through a modern airport’s already congested roads and service tunnels.

4. Facility Management

Airports are basically mini-cities. In fact, some of the world’s largest airports actually have their own postal code.

These mega structures require every bit of infrastructure and utility management as any modern metropolis.


Related Article: Consortiq Joins the Heathrow Fly2Plan Project


Maintaining these buildings, runways, electricity, water, sewer, and other services is a full-time job. Thankfully, drone technology makes this enormous task much more manageable.

Drones can inspect buildings for signs of wear and tear, conduct thermal inspections of roofs, and safely inspect communication towers – all without exposing people to dangerous heights.

When drones are used to create digital twins of airport facilities, they even help create historical records of the status of each building on the property, for future reference purposes.

5. Managing Wildlife Challenges

Given the vast spaces occupied by airports, it’s no surprise that many facilities suffer from wildlife encroachment.

Deer running across runways, animals getting trapped in hangars and warehouses, and birds interfering with flight operations are all surprisingly common.

Drones can be used to track wildlife and alert personnel to their presence.

Some drone manufacturers have even designed special UAVs that look and act like birds. These flapping wing aircraft help chase away birds that collect in dangerous areas.

It’s an innovative idea that helps maintain safe operations at airports plagued by nature’s own flying machines.

The Takeaways

With numerous other uses for drones at airports still in development, it seems like the days of drones and airports squaring off on each other are beginning to fade.

UAV technology is becoming so beneficial and reliable that concerns over drones at airports are starting to minimize.

As these fears give way to better technology and more open minds, it’s likely that you’ll be seeing drones in airports far more often in the future.

So, which drone is right for you? And, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

Picture of David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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