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UK Cranfield Airport deploys automated drones to inspect runway

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 could be employed to inspect other areas like perimeter fences to detect damage or the presence of foreign objects which can be dangerous for aircraft, in the morning before the Airport opens and in the evening after closing.

Rob Abbott, Director of Aviation Operations at Cranfield Airport, said, “As a fully-functional research airport located on a University Campus, this type 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 exploring to harness the potential of unmanned aircraft.”

Due to current visual line of sight (VLOS) restrictions, initial flights are inspecting half of the runway and take around 30 minutes, with the drones flying at 100ft from the ground.  Flight requests to air traffic control are made prior to each one and then images or videos taken are combined and uploaded to cloud storage for visual review.

Edward Anastassacos, MD of Herotech8the company providing the ‘drone-in-a-box’ system, commented, “We see enormous benefits to using drone-in-a-box technology for industrial inspection and monitoring applications. With Cranfield, we aim to demonstrate a continuous runway monitoring capability. These flights are a step towards fully automated, industrial drone operations at scale.”

Meanwhile, work is ongoing to automate the evaluation process with the use of more advanced sensors or thermal imaging cameras to detect and highlight hazards.

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