Fanshawe students use drones to monitor London International Airport runway

Aviation and aerospace technology students at Fanshawe College were helping debunk the myth that drones and airports don’t mix.

With a nearly two-mile stretch of runway closed at London International Airport (LIA) on Tuesday morning, students were using drones in partnership with LIA to inspect the runway.

“People are always concerned about the integration of drones into airport operations,” says Bruno Alvarenga, a former Brazilian air traffic controller and Fanshawe graduate.

“They still think it’s a danger, but we’re here today to prove it actually works,” he adds. “We are in constant contact with the air traffic controllers and with the tower and all the pilots know what we are doing there and we always notice and see the planes operating.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvarenga had the idea of ​​using his skills to accomplish this task. The drone was brought in by ROSOR from Toronto, and the inspection was ongoing.

“We use the drone to take a look at the runway itself,” says Adam Debevec, program coordinator for the Norton Wolf School of Aviation and Aerospace Technology at Fanshawe. “So are there any issues with the cracks, slope of the track or drainage on the sides of the track?”

With the drone in hand of ROSOR co-founder and technical director Robel Efram, they sent it over 30 meters above the ground.

“The camera is pointing directly at the track,” says Debevec. “There’s a lot of overlap that needs to be considered between all of these photos. It’s thousands of photos, we put them together and we create a 3D model that we can put in a database.

This creates a baseline, and after more frequent inspections, they can overlay them and look for changes.

This is the first time that drone technology has been used at LIA. Officials believe that more accurate data can help future maintenance programs.

“So we can see how much crack sealing material we need to order or how much paint we need for the runway markings,” says Steve Faulkner, operations manager at LIA.

He adds: “Instead of doing it the traditional way, which was sort of estimating from year to year what we’re going to need, now we’re going to be able to quantify that.”

With the Fanshawe program located at the LIA, it’s a perfect fit for them to continue working together.

Drone - London Airport - Sept 2022

“They’re not just tenants here at the airport, but a great school, great organization,” Faulkner says. “We are very pleased to be able to work with administrations that strengthen this partnership and envision a long-term relationship between our two organizations.”

The students, including ten-year-old Chinese pilot Will Su, were also gaining hands-on experience. It aided the operation of the drone by monitoring tower and ground frequencies.

“It’s extremely important that we put them in the real world, so they can understand how these tools can be integrated into various business processes,” says Debevec, referring to work done by his students.

He adds: “The students worked on planning what we did here today. They’re here to observe and support and the data that comes into the classroom, they’re going to work on that at the end of the line. They participate fully in the whole process, and this is essential for the school and the program.

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