German airport operator Fraport is trialling an autonomous baggage and cargo tractor on an 8km test route within Frankfurt Airport’s secure area.

According to the operator, the aim of the trial is to determine whether and under what conditions an autonomous vehicle can support regular baggage and cargo operations on the apron.

Eric Agthe, project manager for process and product development at Fraport, said: “Autonomous vehicles are a very promising future option for us as an airport operator. We’ve already trialled self-driving vehicles in some areas, but deployment on the apron on such a long route is a completely new dimension.”

The test route starts in the eastern section of Frankfurt Airport’s apron, in the baggage handling facility at Terminal 2, before heading southwards and approaching the site of the future Terminal 3. The trial section is divided into three components, each presenting particular challenges for the autonomous vehicle. These include operations inside the baggage handling facility close to people and other traffic, as well as in the open where there are few other vehicles. To ensure the outcome reflects real-life conditions with sufficient complexity, the test drives will take place both during the day and at night, in different types of weather.

During the test operations, the vehicle will operate at up to 13km/h and will tow a maximum of three baggage trailers or two large cargo trailers. A safety driver who has received special training and certification for the project will be present on each test drive. In an emergency, this person will actively intervene if necessary.

Autonomous vehicles could provide significant support in daily ground-handling operations. Dennis Stein, vice president division development, logistics and IT, explained: “For Fraport, this project is of high importance because of its potential to facilitate more efficient deployment of staff in the future. Due to the size of the airport apron, our employees often have to cover long distances. If parts of these routes could be operated using autonomous vehicles, this would give the ground services teams more flexibility to handle flights even more efficiently.”

The trial will run until the end of March 2023.

Image: Fraport