Airport Commission report must consider unmanned aircraft

As Sir Howard Davies prepares to publish his Airport Commission report into an additional runway for London, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is warning that any airport expansion must consider the use of unmanned aircraft. The introduction of autonomous flight could drive a significant increase in aircraft movements and change passenger travel and transport of goods by air.

The Airport Commission’s consultation for a new runway in the south east, which closed earlier in the year, made no mention of unmanned aircraft. However, once the regulatory hurdles have been cleared, currently scheduled for 2018, the freight transport industry is likely to be an early adopter.
Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal from the IET said: “Unmanned aircraft have huge potential to transform air travel for passengers and goods.

“Over the next 20 years we are likely to see the widespread use of unmanned aircraft, particularly by the freight industry so it is vitally important that this is taken into account when decisions are being made about airport expansion.

“Companies like Amazon have already made public their intention to rely heavily on unmanned aircraft in the future. And the widespread use of unmanned aircraft in the freight industry could well drive a significant rise in aircraft movements at our main airports, as well as regional airfields.”

The IET is also stressing the need for airport expansion to be considered as part of an integrated transport strategy.

Lambert added: “When considering the best expansion option we must look at all modes of transport including public road vehicles, rail and freight. The way in which people and goods travel to the airports is also particularly important, so we must see provision for appropriate road and rail links to any expanded airport.”

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities are available with IET spokespeople from a broad range of engineering and technology disciplines including cyber-security, energy, engineering skills, innovation, manufacturing, technology, transport and women in engineering.
  • The IET is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions with over 163, 000 members in 127 countries. It is also the most interdisciplinary – to reflect the increasingly diverse nature of engineering in the 21st century. Energy, transport, manufacturing, information and communications, and the built environment: the IET covers them all.
  • The IET is working to engineer a better world by inspiring, informing and influencing our members, engineers and technicians, and all those who are touched by, or touch, the work of engineers.
  • We want to build the profile of engineering and change outdated perceptions about engineering in order to tackle the skills gap. This includes encouraging more women to become engineers and growing the number of engineering apprentices.
  • For more information, visit
  • Follow the IET on Twitter.