Two red and two white lights on the runway. These are the colors pilots need to see when they land and which let them know that their descent angle is correct. This lighting system is periodically checked for faults in airport runway calibration operations. The runways are closed so that the aircraft can run simulations to check that everything is in working order. This operation is currently carried out by a manned plane. The Spanish startup Canarddrones hopes that aircraft will be replaced by drones.
With a degree in computer engineering and an MBA from the IE business school, Jorge Gómez kicked this idea off one year ago. He persuaded Ana Pérez (aeronautics engineer), Rafael Aguado (computer engineer) and Juan Díaz (telecommunications engineer) to build a drone that could perform runway calibration operations.
“We realized that calibration was extremely expensive since it involves an aircraft, a pilot, closing the runways… And that there was the possibility of using drones. We built the prototype in three months. The drone simulates the aircraft. It stands in front of the lighting system at the top of the runway and checks whether everything is okay or whether the lights need to be adjusted,” explains Juan Díaz, the startup’s CTO.
Ana Pérez, CFO, stresses that the operation’s cost is reduced: “Using aircraft costs 3000 euros an hour. If you use a drone, you don’t pay the pilot and crew from an hour’s work, and you don’t pay for moving the aircraft between airports for calibration, etc. Using the drone means flexibility.”
According to this aeronautics engineer with over 10 years of experience at Airbus, “What’s new is moving from a classical, well-known procedure that’s been used for a long time to applying a new way of working which is advantageous at all levels: it reduces time and costs and increases flexibility.”
The startup Canarddrones was formed six months ago and in that time it has released one prototype and is about to launch the second one with 28 minutes of flight time. Díaz points out that “the drone is not the star of the project. There are three main players: the drone; the software (analyzes all data: sent from the drone, the positions, camera footage, etc.); and, last but not least, the operation’s definition since we are talking about developing a procedure that currently does not exist.”
According to Ana Pérez, “the drone itself is a product” and, for this reason, they are knocking on the door of all operators and presenting the project. And even though these two experts agree that the pace of the airport world is slow, they have not sensed any fear from the pilots. Also, AENA is interested in the project and they believe that a public tender will soon be called.
In the meantime, they are targeting Holland, where they have run trials at the airport of Lelystad. Also, they have been selected by the accelerator startupbootcamp and have received 100,000 euros in funding to date (50,000 euros from the European Space Agency and 50,000 euros from Finodex). The next step is to win the first contract and be able to start working in several airports. “Drones are the future. I don’t have anything against pilots but this is the future,” concludes the aeronautics engineer.