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Autonomous Vehicles

ACRP Periodic Report on Transformative Technologies at Airports
- May 7, 2021

Technology Description

For several generations, self-driving consumer vehicles have been considered the next stage of automotive innovation and the goal of many technology start-ups. While the technology has not advanced at a rate many futurists had predicted, recent functionality advancements have increased the focus on potential autonomous vehicles (AVs) use in everyday life. As aspects of autonomous functionality become increasingly common in consumer vehicles available in the market, airport organizations should begin to understand what AVs mean to the airport environment. However, there is still a long way to go before reliable, fully autonomous AVs are ready for the mainstream.

Many only envision self-driving consumer vehicles when they are thinking of AVs, but AVs can be extended to many types of vehicles including mass transit, operational, and non-passenger vehicles. AVs are defined by the California DMV as vehicles with the technology capable of driving without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.[1] However, vehicles can be configured with various levels of autonomy; these levels include the following:[2]

  • Level 0 – No Driving Automation
  • Level 1 – Driver Assistance
  • Level 2 – Partial Driving Automation
  • Level 3 – Conditional Driving Automation
  • Level 4 – High Driving Automation
  • Level 5 – Full Driving Automation

Autonomous functionality is enabled by object detection, machine learning, and wireless connectivity technologies. AVs are supported by technologies such as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), computer vision, artificial intelligence, and object detection systems—all of which are integral to the solution. Advancements in these enabling technologies are vital for more AVs to reach Level 5 autonomy.

Now is the time for airport operators to start planning for the extensive technical and process requirements to deal with the varying types of AVs. A great first step is by staying aware of technical advancement and legal regulation around the AV industry to understand the trajectory of the technology. In doing so, airport executives must consider AVs from both the airport-controlled and non-airport-controlled deployments perspectives. Airports offer a wealth of use cases and locations in which AVs can eventually be deployed. In many instances, airports may start being perfect testing grounds for AV technology and could start leading other industries in AV adoption. On the other hand, non-airport-controlled AV deployments by external parties can impact current airport operations. For example, design changes will be needed to accommodate passengers’ autonomous vehicles at curbside and parking garage locations.

This Publication highlights AVs due to their impacts on both airport-controlled and non-airport-controlled aspects of airport operations. For this reason, AV technology is placed into the Intermediate Transformation Tier, especially considering the lack of experience airport organizations have with the technology. However, AVs were not considered for the Advanced Transformation Tier since many use cases only require swapping human-operated vehicles for autonomously operated versions, limiting impacts to airport operations. While AVs are still early in their development, airport operators should start taking the steps now to incorporate these vehicles into airport strategic planning efforts.


Until real-world deployments begin, airport operators will likely not understand the full impact that autonomous vehicle (AV) deployments will have on their airport environment. This article outlines many of the high-profile impacts that airport operators may expect from the Internet of things devices as their usage increases. Following the impact list, two notable impacts are detailed further.



  • Potential reduction in passengers traveling by air
  • Reduction in consumer parking services revenue
  • Improved resource allocation for airfield vehicles
  • Larger budgetary requirements for airport-managed vehicles

Technical/Infrastructure Readiness

  • More complex network connectivity requirements
  • Digital connected mapping of the airport environment
  • Solutions capable of remotely managing fleets of AVs

Process/Skill Set Changes

  • Remapping of processes to include AVs
  • Onsite expertise to manage, deploy, and maintain these vehicles

Passenger Experience/Passenger Process

  • Provides more autonomy and flexibility for passengers with special needs
  • New service offerings for passengers
  • New offsite processing opportunities
  • Passengers can spend their effort preparing for arrival rather than driving
  • A passenger may gravitate to AVs for short- and mid-range travel over air travel


  • Effective fleet management to monitor the use of full-scale deployments
  • Identification of current security gaps that AVs could exploit

Airport Design/Construction

  • Airport design can repurpose the real estate provided from the reduction in the quantity of airport-owned vehicles
  • Must design parking lots and garages to account for airport and passenger use of AVs
  • Must make an accommodation to building design to support the use of interior AVs

Revenue/Business Model

  • New revenue sources from assistive and premium passenger services
  • Potential reduction to parking and valet service revenue


  • Current restrictions on AV operation in public environments
  • Insurance and liability considerations
  • Current contract adjustments for vehicle service providers currently working at airports

Featured Impacts

Reduction in passenger travel: AVs can provide passengers with another option for short-to-medium-range trips, getting them there on their own schedules and delivering them directly to their destination—all without many of the process complexities associated with air travel. For this reason, airports could begin to see decreases in passenger numbers as more travelers opt to take autonomously driven trips over air travel. However, as AV adoption rates increase, new opportunities may be available to airport operators to incorporate aspects of AV travel into airport operations.

New revenue sources from assistive and premium passenger services: Airport terminals can be very large and confusing places, making it difficult for some users to travel. The airport can look into offering autonomous transportation solutions to passengers who may be willing to pay for the service. Autonomous wheelchairs or remote autonomous baggage check services can also be offered to passengers as add-ons to their journey. Further, passengers with disabilities or those looking for a premium experience within the airport would be target customers for an airport-managed autonomous service. As autonomous solutions become more advanced, airport operators may soon identify new ways these solutions can be monetized within the airport organization.


To better understand autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, airport operators should gain a better understanding of its specific attributes. This article explores the operating factors of AV technology and some of its usage characteristics. Understanding these attributes will help airport operators determine applicable use cases for AVs and how their organization can support them.

Computing Power and Hardware Requirements

AVs are supported by a combination of several enabling technologies that must operate in concert to facilitate full autonomous operations. Object detection, artificial intelligence, and wireless communication solutions are some of the notable technologies needed to operate AVs. External hardware is also necessary for the operation of AVs, including positioning systems and infrastructure communication with vehicles.

Level of Airport Control

The adoption of AVs will take place mostly outside of the airport industry’s control. These non-airport-controlled vehicles may have varying levels of impact on airport operations. Airport organizations will also be presented with numerous use cases in which the airport controls the deployment of autonomous solutions. The growth in the market share of AVs stands to have a similar level of impact as that encountered by society as human-operated vehicles became prevalent in day-to-day operations. Due to the potential scale of these impacts on society and passenger behavior, airport operators must monitor advancements in the AV industry.

Effect on Multiple Industries

The use of motorized vehicles at the turn of the 20th century had a material effect on multiple industries; the advancement of AVs will do the same, affecting industries ranging from transportation to shipping, and even entertainment, altering processes and approaches along the way. Since the airport industry might lag behind others, airport operators may be able to use lessons learned from the approach other industries took when adapting to AVs.

Use Cases/Business Effect

With every new or emerging technology, there are two basic questions an airport operator asks: “How can my airport use this?” and “How does this affect my business, even if my airport doesn’t wish to use it for our own benefit?” This article provides answers to both of these questions, addressing the airport uses cases and business effect of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology.

Use Cases

As AV solutions advance to a point of being cost-effective with widespread adoption, potential use cases become available for airport operators to incorporate into their organizations.

Airport-Owned Autonomous Vehicle Fleet

Airport organizations can deploy an internally operated fleet of AVs to transport passengers. This can be a premium service offering that allows passenger-specific privileges and processing options. A similar solution to this may allow for new revenue streams outside of parking.

Airfield Vehicles*

Vehicles used on the airside for airfield operations can be automated to both reduce staffing needs and increase the efficient use of vehicles. Vehicles owned by airport organizations can be managed as needed to reduce vehicle downtime and the number of staff required to operate them.

*Disclaimer: The use of AVs on airport property may be subject to regulatory approval.

Assistive Services

Autonomous personal vehicles can assist passengers with limited mobility along their journey. Upon arrival, an autonomous wheelchair or other personal transportation devices can be dispatched to retrieve passengers and take them through security, airside dwell areas, and departure gate. These AVs would allow passengers more independence on their journey without the need to rely on manual airport push services.

Business Effect

Whether or not an airport chooses to employ AVs for its own benefit, AV use and/or deployments near or on the airport property that is not directly initiated/driven by the airport may have an effect on aspects of the airport’s operations.

Requiring New Competitive Services

AVs may offer travelers alternative options to air travel. To maintain passenger levels, airlines may need to understand the market segments that AVs would impact most and offer new services to keep air travel competitive.

Autonomous Vehicle Adapted Infrastructure

AVs will enter the consumer market slowly, causing a long transition period during which traditional vehicles and AVs operate in tandem. Parking garages and airport curbsides will need to be designed to accommodate autonomous and traditional vehicles in a mixed operational environment.

Automation Regulation

Airport operators will soon have to mandate the operating requirements for both consumer and commercial automated vehicles. Supporting infrastructures such as wireless networks and connected devices must be designed to provide the necessary infrastructure for non-airport-owned vehicles to operate on the property.

Tiered Approach

Airport operators interested in new or emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, will differ in their levels of risk tolerance. Some organizations are comfortable at the forefront of technology and have the resources to support innovation. Other organizations are interested in simply exploring how they can use AVs within their limited resources.

This article takes a tiered approach to AV technology, providing use cases that are separated by the following innovation tiers: Reactive, Strategic, and Innovative.


Leveraging Semi-Autonomous Functionality

Airport organizations can include object detection capabilities in current airport vehicles to improve safety. Object detection solutions and vehicle functionality are widely available in many consumer and commercial vehicles today.


Small-Scale Passenger/Employee Shuttles

Airport organizations looking to deploy the latest in autonomous technology can look to use autonomous shuttles for passenger or employee transit. These shuttles are not fully autonomous, requiring extensive path mapping and planning; however, airport properties offer numerous examples of low variable use cases in which airport shuttles can effectively operate.

Airfield Vehicles

An airport airfield presents many opportunities to deploy autonomously operated vehicles. Trials are currently underway at airports across the globe for use in airplane taxiing, baggage transport, and airplane servicing. Airfields can be designed with the proper support technology to effectively deploy AVs, and the extensive training given to airport staff reduces the variables that the AVs must account for during operation.

Personal Passenger Transportation Offerings

Some passengers may find the size of many airport terminals and concourses to be difficult or time-consuming to traverse. Autonomously operated wheelchairs and golf cart shuttles can ease some of this issue and can use many of the existing technologies already available within the airport property.


Parking Garage Accommodations

As non-airport-owned AVs increase in popularity, their impact will be felt on much of the existing infrastructure built with traditional vehicles in mind. Parking garages stand to be heavily impacted by the use of AVs. As AVs become more prevalent, parking garage structures must be designed with autonomous functionality in mind. For example, parking structures can incorporate the connected equipment necessary for AVs to operate or alter their design for more efficient use of AVs. The scale and costs associated with large-scale construction projects make development difficult, but it would allow airport organizations to adapt their environment to the future use of technology.

Airport Owned Autonomous Fleet Vehicles

To make up for the revenue potentially lost from parking services, airport operators should consider investigating airport owned autonomous taxi services, allowing passengers to request pick up or drop off services. These vehicles could even be embedded with new passenger processing services unique to airport vehicles and allow passengers to receive baggage straight to the vehicle.

Industry Status

Exploring autonomous vehicle (AV) technology deployments in both aviation and non-aviation industries can provide airport operators with a better understanding of the technology as a whole. This article outlines the current state of AV technology from both perspectives.

Aviation Industry

Mass Transit

Airports are beginning to investigate the use of autonomous shuttles to transport passengers across locations within the airport. For example, All Nippon Airways has partnered with Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to trial self-driving electric busses.[3]

Automated Wheelchairs

Using similar technology, wheelchairs are being trialed that allow passengers to move around in the airport without the need for wheelchair service personnel. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has recently finished a trial of automated wheelchairs operating within the terminal.[4]

Airfield Vehicles

Baggage tugs, airport towing, and service vehicles are being outfitted with autonomous functionality to provide new operational opportunities.[5]

Non-aviation Industry

Consumer Vehicles

Consumer vehicles are increasingly being outfitted with autonomous functionality. Several vehicle manufacturers now offer vehicles with some form of autonomous driving capability, although only available in certain driving environments.[6]

Parking Structures

Automotive companies are currently trialing technologies that adapt parking structures to accommodate vehicles with autonomous functionality.[7]

Shipping Vehicles

Vehicles providing shipment services are being outfitted with autonomous functionality. From large freight shipments to small-scale last-mile personal robotic deliveries, new technology is being designed to address the various types of use cases.[8]

Technology Interaction

Technology solutions may enable or be supported by other types of technologies. In some cases, the advancement of one technology may be vital to the effective use of another. This article highlights some of the high-level ways that autonomous vehicle (AV) technology may leverage the functionality of other technologies or be used to enhance the functionality of another technology. As solution development continues, integrations with other technologies may become more evident.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is necessary for these vehicles to operate in a variable-rich environment. Integration with AI allows the system to interpret and process information as it is happening in the real world, helping with object detection, computer vision, and navigation.

Internet of Things

AVs must constantly communicate with other vehicles and connected devices. Also known as vehicle-to-anything communication, connected devices provide traffic and environmental status to vehicles in proximity of the devices. Types of connected devices can range from traffic signals to parking spots to speed limit signs, with all types important to the operation of AVs in real-world environments.

Future Transportation

AVs—and autonomous functionality in general—play a large role in how future transportation solutions will operate. AVs will be relevant in both local and long-range travel. Autonomous functionality can also be leveraged by different types of transportation methods, such as vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, and it will not be limited to only ground vehicles.

5G Wireless

AVs send and receive extensive amounts of data to operate. All characteristics of 5G networks are needed for large-scale deployment of AVs and their supporting infrastructure.

Technology Barriers

As with some other technologies noted in this Publication, there are market forces or obstacles in development that present barriers to the deployment and widespread adoption of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. Keeping abreast of these barriers can help airport operators know when to expect to see wider use of this technology in public environments and when they should look to reassess it for their own use. This article outlines the current state of AV technology barriers.

Current Regulatory Landscape

Regulations surrounding AVs and their use in public spaces have caused confusion for those investigating the deployment of the technology. Many states still require a human driver to be present or certain requirements to be in place before an AV can operate on public roads. Complying with these regulations may prove resource-intensive to airport organizations.

Operational Capability

Current AVs still require extensive pre-planning and site mapping before deployment, and therefore they cannot adjust to most scenarios on-the-fly. This limits the use of autonomous functionality to only certain areas or scenario types.

Technology Costs

The costs of AVs and the enabling technologies used to support their operation have limited the widespread adoption of the technology. Due to these high costs, only very specific use cases currently make business sense to incorporate AVs. As production levels increase and cheaper enabling technology becomes more readily available, prices for AV solutions will begin to decrease.

Enabling Technology Development

To allow autonomous operations in real-world environments, the technologies that enable the operation of an AV solution still require further development, including advancements in artificial intelligence, object detection, and communication technology to allow AVs to operate in increasingly complex scenarios.