Lufthansa Aerial Services, Fraport AG and DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH run successful tests of drone technology at Frankfurt Airport
In a test of remote-controlled camera drone technology at the beginning of December, Lufthansa Aerial Services (LAS), Fraport AG and DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH successfully gathered initial operational experience for the potential use of drones at the airport. For these purposes, test flights were carried out during a two-hour time frame in the area of the north runway. This area was temporarily not in use for operational air traffic while the test flights were being conducted.
As a drone operator, Lufthansa Aerial Services was able to gain important insights for future participation in a dynamically growing market. LAS is a project currently being expanded with the help of Lufthansa Consulting GmbH, with the aim of establishing itself on the market as a commercial operator of unmanned aircraft for large infrastructure clients. Possible areas of deployment include inspection, measurement and surveillance, as well as the corresponding data processing, of various infrastructure facilities and equipment – for example the visual surveillance of windmill facilities, railroad tracks, above-ground pipelines and construction sites with high-resolution cameras. These fields of application include the deployment of drones at airports and their surroundings, as tested.
For Fraport, the possible use of drone technology to check the runways and taxiways for unauthorized foreign objects is of great interest; at the moment automotive vehicles are used for this very important and essential task. In addition, drones could be deployed for the surveying of airport topography. This application was tested using an airport fire department building which is located near the north runway. The test drone flew over and around the building multiple times.
DFS has been active in research projects relating to drone technology since 2006. These projects include, for example, the establishment of safe air-space corridors to be used by unmanned aviation systems. This recent test investigated the extent to which the drone, equipped with a transponder, is visible on air and surface movement guidance systems, to help ensure its safe integration with air traffic.
All test flights were carried out during periods of low airport traffic, so that flight operations were not delayed or hindered at any time. Because the operation of drones in the direct vicinity of airports falls under strict legal boundaries, it was necessary to obtain the absolute approval of all involved stakeholders before any tests were carried out. Thanks to the participation of DFS, which is the company responsible for air traffic control in Germany, as well as Fraport AG, in charge of operations at Frankfurt Airport, all the relevant partners were involved in the process from the beginning. On the legal side, the State of Hessen Ministry of Economics, Energy, Transport and Regional Development, responsible for aviation in Hessen, and the Regional Council of Darmstadt, as the executive agency, were both involved in the approval process.
Lufthansa Aerial Services, DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH and Fraport are currently analyzing the results of the successful test run. The next test phase will expand upon these results; further tests should provide insights for the development of market-capable solutions and areas of application for implementation in sensitive airport environments.