Driverless Buses Could Start Ferrying Passengers to Their Planes at Gatwick Airport

Gatwick Airport has announced an autonomous shuttle service could start this summer, initially taking workers between the North and South Terminals.
Sibel Nicholson

Driverless buses could soon be taking passengers to their planes at Gatwick, Britain’s second-biggest airport, in what would be the world’s first autonomous shuttle service.

Gatwick airport has announced that it will begin a six-month trial of the vehicles this summer in a bid to cut costs and improve safety. It is intended that passengers will be carried from the terminal to their flights on buses without a driver.


Initially, the trial will focus on the North and South Terminals and no passengers or planes will be involved. The trial will focus on airport workers initially.

The first self-driving shuttle buses will have the job of ferrying staff between two terminals. If this trial is successful, they will move onto carrying passengers. Using driverless buses for shuttle services is expected to be cheaper and more efficient, according to authorities.

When the trial is successful in terms of carrying the staff, Gatwick Airport will start using the scheme to include pushback tugs, which steer planes to and from the terminal, as well as the passengers. Almost 45 million passengers go through Gatwick Airport each year.

First of its kind

The trial is being carried out by Oxford-based software company Oxbotica and is thought to be the first of its kind. Heathrow Airport already uses driverless pods, but they are on a fixed network between a car park and Terminal 5.

"The new technology is a more efficient way to manage vehicles and could lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles required, their associated costs and harmful emissions."

The British government has made an announcement that it will revise its guidance on autonomous vehicles so that they can be tested without a safety driver. British ministers have said that the vehicles could start being in general commercial use by 2021.

“If this trial proves successful, we could have an Uber-like service operating across the airfield which staff can hail when they need to travel. Much more research will be needed, but ultimately this could be the start of widespread use of autonomous vehicles on airfields across the world. The new technology is a more efficient way to manage vehicles and could lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles required, their associated costs and harmful emissions.” Cathal Corcoran, chief information officer at Gatwick, said.

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This could mean about 300 vehicles at Gatwick Airport becoming autonomous.

Many possible uses for autonomous vehicles

On the other hand, the International Air Transport Association has listed more than 40 possible uses for autonomous vehicles which could improve operations at the airport. These also include the introduction of large driverless buses to take passengers to and from aircraft at remote stands.

“Airports offer an interesting domain for our autonomous driving software. There is a huge diversity of vehicles, each with a specific mission. The challenge of choreographing all of the activity around an individual plane or in support of airport operations is immense and we look forward to working with Gatwick on this initial pilot that will demonstrate our technology carrying staff around the airfield.” Graeme Smith, Oxbotica chief executive, said. Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority will ultimately have to approve the use of driverless vehicles on the airfield.

Via: The Times