The Cranfield Airport in the U.K. has deployed automated drones to inspect its runway by utilizing “drone-in-a-box” technology to enable routine inspections to take place with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be automatically deployed, recovered and recharged without the need for an operator.
This is the first time that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used to remotely inspect the runway at Cranfield Airport.
According to Rob Abbott, Director of Aviation Operations at Cranfield Airport, stated:
“As a fully-functional research airport located on a university campus, this kind of technology demonstration and development exercise is very much in our DNA. Using UAVs to conduct inspections could reduce operational costs and is another example of the work we are doing to explore and harness the potential of unmanned aircraft.”*
At this time we have visual line-of-sight (VLOS) restrictions for initial flights of drones flying at 100ft from the ground. Therefore, it is typical to inspect as much as half of the runway, which usually takes about 30 minutes. The flight requests to air traffic control are made before each flight and images and/or videos that are taken are then combined and uploaded to cloud storage for review.
The Managing Director of HEROTECH8, the company which provided the “drone-in-a-box” system, Edward Anastassacos, stated:
“We are very excited to be working on this with Cranfield Airport. We see enormous benefits to using drone-in-a-box technology for industrial inspection and monitoring applications. With Cranfield, we hope to demonstrate a continuous runway monitoring capability. These flights are a step towards fully automated, industrial drone operations at scale.”*
There is ongoing work to automate the evaluation process by using more advanced sensors or thermal imaging cameras to detect and highlight hazards.
The current regulations require unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to be operated within visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the remote pilot at all times. Cranfield University is a postgraduate university that is a global leader that specializes in education and transformational research in technology and management.
The UK’s Cranfield Airport has deployed automated drones to inspect its runway, reports cranfield.ac.uk. The flights made use of ‘drone-in-a-box’ technology with the aim of enabling routine inspections to take place with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be automatically deployed, recovered and recharged without the need for an on-site operator.
In the future, drones not only will provide routine inspections of runways but also can be used to inspect other areas such as fences to detect damage or the presence of foreign objects which can be dangerous for aircraft.
This all could be done in the morning before an airport opens and in the evening after closing.