Given the complexity of a modern airport and the predicted growth in traffic over the coming decades, autonomous vehicles (AVs) and systems offer intriguing solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Automation has the potential to increase airport efficiency, safety, security, and sustainability while also providing a level of personalization to the passenger experience.
Automated tasks fall within the principle categories of robotics, self-driving vehicles, airport parking services, airside operations and drones. Trials and implementations are already ongoing at airports around the world in all these respective areas and are now reaching a level of sophistication that requires high-level strategy. Such a strategy must take into account critical issues such as data security, privacy, liability, infrastructure needs and employment changes.
AVs have the potential to bring many benefits. Modifications to ground service equipment (GSE) is being explored by manufacturers, airports and airlines seeking to improve operational safety, potentially saving millions of dollars lost by damage done to aircraft and other assets on the airside.
Autonomous machines can offer a useful layer of security to an already robust security programme, bringing new ways to identify vulnerabilities around airfield perimeters or in crowded public areas.
Electric AVs can lead to improved fuel efficiency and reduction in carbon emissions. We see this for example with the use of driverless cargo pods, passenger transportation, aircraft tugs and baggage transportation systems that make use of AV technology.
AVs can maximize the opportunities for parking at airports or may reduce the demand for parking depending on how they are deployed and the space available. Airports may need to rethink their business models by modifying current infrastructure, creating dedicated AV parking facilities where space can be maximized by using parking robots, or charging a fee “per drop off or pick up” in order to at least maintain or generate additional revenues from autonomous passenger transportation.
And regarding the end user, the increased use of AVs may mean a more customized and seamless journey for the passenger. For example, a driverless car may take someone to an airport and transfer their luggage directly to an autonomous luggage collector while a robot checks in the passenger, and an automated parking valet assigns a parking spot to the car.
The ACI World Facilitation and Services Standing Committee, working alongside the NEXTT Initiative, has developed the Autonomous Vehicles and Systems at Airports Report that explores the application of AVs at airports. The report will be available at the end of November 2019.
The document is designed to increase the aviation community’s familiarity with autonomous machines and technologies; it provides information from the first attempts at integrating AVs in airports in order to gain a better understanding of how it is likely to impact aviation in the medium- to long-term.
We hope that the document will prompt airport operators to engage with autonomous machine and vehicle manufacturers to see if they can benefit from being early adopters of this technology and fertile testing grounds for trials.
The ACI Security Standing Committee, in collaboration with Arup, will also release the Autonomous Vehicles and Systems at Airports Assessing Potential Security Threats and Risks Report—also at the end of November 2019.
The intent of the report is to explore the emerging security vulnerabilities and potential security risks associated with the deployment of autonomous vehicles, systems and drones by airports. It considers how airports, designers and other members of the aviation community can introduce these technologies in a more informed manner with regard to potential security impacts.
The Arup Threat Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (TVRA) approach is used to identify scenarios for an airport of any size, depending on their intended and actual deployment of such driverless vehicles on the ground and/or in the air.
While the report presents possible threats and risks, it does not, at this stage, propose in detail how these might be mitigated. It is suggested that security measures to manage the risk from AVs should be discussed in each State and airport when considering their deployment. This discussion should also happen at an international level, where sharing of lessons learned and best practices will be useful.