Sky’s the limit for autonomous airport savings

Research reveals airport logistics will make big savings thanks to autonomous vehicles, reports Paul Myles.

Airports stand to be among the biggest winners in autonomous vehicle technology with a study suggesting huge operating cost savings could be made.

It highlights how some airports see 90% of their airside vehicles stand idle at any one time and that an autonomous pilot scheme at Düsseldorf reveals a 60% saving in vehicle parking space.

The report commissioned by Aberdeen Standard Investment’s Airport Industrial and Property Unit Trust (AIPUT) fund has highlighted the scale of progress and future potential for the adoption of automated transport and logistics technology at airports. AIPUT currently holds two million sq ft of buildings at Heathrow, dedicated to supporting the airport’s freight and logistics service providers.

The report, produced jointly by specialist UK aviation real estate consultancy, ChappellKing and Dornier Consulting International, explores the potential efficiency gains from automation across a plethora of airport-related functions such as cargo-handling and logistics operations, as well as passenger transportation both to and within airports.

Commenting on the report, AIPUT fund manager, Nick Smith, said: “Autonomous technology promises enormous benefits to airports and the service companies that support them, transforming the way airports work and improving efficiency and safety, both for passengers and other airport users. At Gatwick, for example, 90% of the airport’s airside vehicles are stationary at any one time, which is both hugely inefficient and demands a vast amount of space.  A much smaller pool of electric-powered autonomous vehicles would drastically cut costs, free up land, reduce emissions, and improve safety. In Düsseldorf, a newly-developed robotic car parking system has demonstrated a 60% reduction in required parking space compared to human drivers.”

Trials of a variety of autonomous technological applications have already taken place at a number of UK airports. The first trials of automated air-side vehicles have been completed at Heathrow in collaboration with IAG Cargo and Oxbotica.  Gatwick, meanwhile, recently became the first airport in the world to trial the use of autonomous vehicles to shuttle staff across the airfield, demonstrating that autonomous vehicles can operate safely in highly-complex airfield environments.

Last winter in Norway an autonomous snowplow was tested at Fagernes Airport, with a single machine able to clear an area of 68 acres in a single hour. Autonomous technology increases the precision with which snowplows operate, improving safety during the removal of snow and while driving in formation and low visibility.

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