Ground-breaking ground handling: Fraport tests autonomous baggage and cargo tractor

An eight-kilometre-long test route will be the driveway for Frankfurt’s self-driving electric cargo tractor. The airport hopes the vehicle will improve efficiency of operations.

Autonomous baggage and cargo tractor

Autonomous baggage and cargo tractor. Credit: Fraport

Fraport AG Ground Services are currently trailing an autonomous baggage and cargo tractor and will operate on an eight-kilometre-long test route within Frankfurt Airport’s secure area. Over the course of several weeks, the trial aims 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, says: “Autonomous vehicles are a very promising future option for us as an airport operator…deployment on the apron on such a long route is a completely new dimension. Safety will be the top priority during the trial. The fact that we are tackling these kinds of innovative projects, despite the challenging operating conditions, once again emphasises our role as a future-focused company.”

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 future Terminal 3. The trial section is divided into three components, each with their own challenges. These include operating in the baggage handling facility amongst traffic and people, as well as in the open where there are few other vehicles. To guarantee authenticity to real-life conditions, the test drives will take place in varying weather conditions, both during the day and at night.

At the trial, the vehicle will operate at a maximum speed of 13 kilometres per hour at a maximum of three baggage trailers or two large cargo trailers. A certified safety driver will be present on each test drive to immediately react or actively intervene if an unplanned situation arises.

If the trial is a success, it could prove that autonomous vehicles provide significant support in daily ground-handling operations. Dennis Stein, Vice President Division Development, Logistics and IT, says: “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 more efficiently.”

The trial is expected to run until the end of March 2023.

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