Gathering initial operational experience for the potential use of unmanned technology at airports, a Lufthansa partnership has carried out drone flights at Frankfurt Airport in Germany.
At the beginning of the month, Lufthansa Aerial Services (LAS), Fraport AG and DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH carried out test flights during a two-hour time frame in the area of the north runway. The area was not in use for operational air traffic during the flights.
As a drone operator, LAS says it was able to gain important insights for future participation in the dynamically growing drone market. LAS, with the help of Lufthansa Consulting GmbH, has an aim of establishing itself on the market as a commercial operator of drones 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. These fields of application also include the deployment of drones at airports and their surroundings – as was tested through these flights.
For Fraport, says LAS, the possible use of drones to check the runways and taxiways for unauthorized or foreign objects is of great interest; at the moment, automotive vehicles are used for this essential task. In addition, drones could be deployed for surveying airport topography. This application was tested using an airport fire department building 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 airspace corridors to be used by unmanned aviation systems. Now, this recent test investigated the extent to which the drone, equipped with a transponder, is visible on air and surface movement guidance systems in order to help ensure the technology’s safe integration with air traffic.
All test flights were carried out during periods of low airport traffic so that flight operations for the rest of the airport were not delayed or hindered at any time. Because the operation of drones in the direct vicinity of airports falls under strict legal boundaries, the partners obtained the approval of all involved stakeholders before any tests were carried out.
Thanks to the participation of DFS, which is responsible for air traffic control in Germany, as well as Fraport AG, which is 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, says Lufthansa.