We’ve explored how drones could change what airplane inspections could look like on a practical level but they have the potential to be utilized for a variety of inspection purposes across the entire facility. Drones could decrease the time currently spent on manually inspecting runways and be used to identify potential damage to a plane or other issues that need the attention of technicians. However, these efficiencies are just the beginning of the opportunities that Ahmad Bakkar believes the technology can create at airports.

With over 15 years of experience in aviation, Bakkar is with the Royal Schiphol Group at Rotterdam The Hague Airport where he is focused on strategy, innovation and new business. As such, he’s recognized the efficiencies and opportunities that drone technology can enable at airports, many of which he’s set to explore during the Infrastructure & Transportation session that will focus on Rail & Airport at the upcoming Amsterdam Drone Week.

“What I want to showcase during the session is how the use of drones can create a positive impact on the operation of the airport,” Bakkar said. “We have created a concept of operations to make this happen. Not many airports have created this very defined way in which drones can perform set tasks. Flying over an aircraft to inspect it when it's parked is different than flying to inspect the runway but the same concept of operations enables those types of applications and opens up further uses and applications.”

From a strategic perspective, flying drones at an airport is possible and can add quantifiable value. Instead of sending people out to assess the condition of a plane or runway, a drone can be utilized to capture that information. Only if the condition of the asset requires an actual inspection will a team be sent, saving a great deal of time. However, sharing what it can mean to enable this sort of task from a practical perspective with airport service provides, airport operations and with the actual drone operators can be a challenge. Those practicalities are connected to safety and security elements which are top of mind in airport environments.

“Safety and security are key in this because that concept of operations is essentially a list of all the possible things that can go wrong,” Bakkar told Commercial UAV News. “We define our mitigation for all of these elements on this list. One might say we accept a particular risk because the likelihood of this happening is very low. Or that we don't accept the risk and will put active mitigation in place. Regardless of the specific approach or mitigation, those safety and security elements are foundational to what we’re doing.”

So much of making drones make sense in an environment like an airport is about the details. What type of airport is it? What are the needs and the requirement for your operation? Airports of all types are under pressure to cut on their budgets and operating costs and innovations like drones represent a way to not only cut costs but regain financial stability after the COVID-related upheavals of the previous years.

The standardization of such processes when it comes to regulation is also something that Bakkar is looking to highlight and will be an even bigger part of Amsterdam Drone Week itself. Right now, airport stakeholders like Bakkar have to work out how they’re using the technology on an individual and airport basis, sorting through the regulatory issues with local authorities. Establishing standards and creating a more international understanding of these aspects, which can go all the way up to the EASA level, could eventually enable someone to receive permission and even accreditation for these specific uses of drone technology. That desire for standards is being driven by where the technology is right now.

“We can use drones today and we are using them today,” Bakkar said. “It's about doing it the right way though and we have to be very careful because there is a way a long way to go when it comes to the learning curve. We’re just getting started but we’re learning by doing in a way that’s making a difference and providing a path to creating many more efficiencies.”


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