London Gatwick airport could in 2018 see a flurry of drone activity, with both the facility's operator and low-cost carrier EasyJet looking to employ unmanned air vehicles for inspection tasks.
EasyJet has for several years been trialling the use of UAVs, in conjunction with UK firm Blue Bear Systems, to perform aircraft inspections to check for damage following events such as lightning strikes.
Gary Smith, head of engineering at the UK carrier, says the technology has been "successfully tested".
In 2018 it will roll out the system to its two UK maintenance hangars at London airports Gatwick and Luton, he says, following initial trials conducted with the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
"Ultimately this may well become a service that is scalable worldwide," he says. "We are pushing it forward."
If the roll-out in the UK proves successful, it will look to adopt the system at its three other in-house facilities at Geneva, Milan Malpensa and Berlin Schoenefeld.
Lufthansa Technik carries out heavy maintenance tasks for EasyJet at sites in Malta in Budapest, and, notes Smith "it is in our interest that it is adopted by suppliers as well".
EasyJet has also been using 3D-scanning technology to permit more accurate damage assessments, and it hopes to be able to this capability to the UAVs as well, says Smith.
Meanwhile, London Gatwick's operator is to begin trials of UAVs designed to perform runway inspections in the first half of 2018.
Cathal Corcoran, the airport's chief information officer, says the drones will replace manual inspections for damage or foreign object debris.
"They can perform inspections better than any human eye," he says. "Drones are exciting for us."
Gatwick will use the tests, which will take place on a private road, to determine whether UAVs or autonomous ground vehicles provide the most accurate images, he says.
He stresses that any future drone operations would only take place at night when the runway is not in use.
The airport operator also will investigate the use of UAVs to secure the site's perimeter.