Analysis of airport design for introducing infrastructure for autonomous drones

Harry Edelman*, Joel Stenroos, Jorge Peña Queralta, David Hästbacka, Jani Oksanen, Tomi Westerlund, Juha Röning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Purpose: Connecting autonomous drones to ground operations and services is a prerequisite for the adoption of scalable and sustainable drone services in the built environment. Despite the rapid advance in the field of autonomous drones, the development of ground infrastructure has received less attention. Contemporary airport design offers potential solutions for the infrastructure serving autonomous drone services. To that end, this paper aims to construct a framework for connecting air and ground operations for autonomous drone services. Furthermore, the paper defines the minimum facilities needed to support unmanned aerial vehicles for autonomous logistics and the collection of aerial data. Design/methodology/approach: The paper reviews the state-of-the-art in airport design literature as the basis for analysing the guidelines of manned aviation applicable to the development of ground infrastructure for autonomous drone services. Socio-technical system analysis was used for identifying the service needs of drones. Findings: The key findings are functional modularity based on the principles of airport design applies to micro-airports and modular service functions can be connected efficiently with an autonomous ground handling system in a sustainable manner addressing the concerns on maintenance, reliability and lifecycle. Research limitations/implications: As the study was limited to the airport design literature findings, the evolution of solutions may provide features supporting deviating approaches. The role of autonomy and cloud-based service processes are quintessentially different from the conventional airport design and are likely to impact real-life solutions as the area of future research. Practical implications: The findings of this study provided a framework for establishing the connection between the airside and the landside for the operations of autonomous aerial services. The lack of such framework and ground infrastructure has hindered the large-scale adoption and easy-to-use solutions for sustainable logistics and aerial data collection for decision-making in the built environment. Social implications: The evolution of future autonomous aerial services should be accessible to all users, “democratising” the use of drones. The data collected by drones should comply with the privacy-preserving use of the data. The proposed ground infrastructure can contribute to offloading, storing and handling aerial data to support drone services’ acceptability. Originality/value: To the best of the authors’ knowledge, the paper describes the first design framework for creating a design concept for a modular and autonomous micro-airport system for unmanned aviation based on the applied functions of full-size conventional airports.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-100
Number of pages16
Issue number15-16
Publication statusPublished - 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Design
  • Framework
  • Infrastructure


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