UAS Integration: Five Core Applications

The FAA Office of Airports has identified five core applications for UAS in the airport environment, listed in order of priority: Obstruction Analysis, Airfield Pavement Inspections, Wildlife Hazard Management, Perimeter Security, and Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting.


Together with other industry leaders in UAS integration (airports, agencies, and organizations), ATR is developing concepts of operation (CONOPS) that identify suitable technology for each of these core applications and affect FAA-authorized guidance resources. Methods and means for all applications will continue to be gathered and refined through outreach efforts including expert focus groups.


Obstruction Analysis


In order to identify obstructions that penetrate airport surfaces, UAS are flown on a pre-set flight path and take geo-referenced photographs of the surface below them at set intervals with an onboard camera. These images are used to generate 3D “point cloud” models of area elevations. A user can determine the location and extent of any penetrations by comparing an obstruction surface to the generated models. Findings contribute to airport decisions including land-use planning and tree clearing projects.


UAS obstruction analysis models are produced faster and in far greater detail than ground-based assessments—and at a   fraction of the cost. ATR is researching this application in collaboration with the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission (SCAC), an industry leader that is actively using UAS for obstacle clearance surveys.


Airfield Pavement Inspections


Each year, about 70% of Airport Improvement Program grants are allocated for work on airfield pavements. This application focuses on using UAS and advanced sensor technology for more efficient and economical pavement condition evaluation and management.


ATR is collaborating with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to test proof-of-concept pavement inspection and analysis with UAS in order to increase efficiency and thereby reduce runway closure times. High-resolution, geo-referenced imagery of airport pavement surfaces are captured and used to identify signs of aging and distress. Some sensors may eventually supplement Pavement Condition Index (PCI) measurements.


Wildlife Hazard Management: Mitigation and Detection/Monitoring


Wildlife strikes can pose a significant safety risk to aircraft. Part 139 airports are required to monitor, and if necessary, mitigate wildlife strike risks in and around airports. The objective of this application is to increase aviation safety by reducing the likelihood of damaging wildlife strikes in and around the airport environment.


In partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Wildlife Services, ATR is researching various types of UAS platforms and sensors as a tool for avian hazing, as well as for the detection and monitoring of wildlife activity on and within the vicinity of airports.


Perimeter Security


This UAS application has been implemented as a method for improving perimeter airfield fence inspections. UAS allow inspectors to efficiently examine areas that are difficult to reach by foot or in ground vehicles.


In order to enhance perimeter surveillance, ATR and the National Safe Skies Alliance collaborate in testing UAS and sensor technologies capable of detecting and locating individuals posing as intruders. Assessments have been performed at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) and McGhee Tyson Airport (TTS).


Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF)


Until recently, airport firefighters have been able to observe events only from the cab of a rescue vehicle or on the ground. UAS may now be used to capture live video of emergency scenes from an elevated position.  This would enable firefighters to make more informed decisions on attacking fires, evacuating passengers, and monitoring the position of other firefighting personnel and apparatus for the duration of the emergency.


ATR is collaborating with Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and its Fire Training Research Center to develop and mature CONOPS for ARFF using UAS and identify the most advantageous UAS platforms and sensors.


Contact Project Lead  Michael DiPilato