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Future Air Cargo Safety

Safety Overview

The development and trial deployment of new air cargo-related technologies can greatly increase the safety of the freight mode’s human employees, the vehicles carrying goods, and the cargoes themselves.

Future Aircraft Crashes

Future air freight technology will require a zero tolerance for the loss of life or injury to humans and minimal damage to cargo. Currently, the movement of people and goods by air is one of the safest freight transportation modes in the United States. Introducing new technologies that utilize driverless and smaller aircraft will not adversely impact air cargo’s historical safety record.

However, with technological advances, new and different safety issues present themselves. One such example is the need for battery and software reliability for small uncrewed aerial vehicles (sUAVs) or drone home delivery in urban residential areas to safeguard against crashes in the event of power or navigation failure. Although new advancements are being made today, the full adoption of these technologies into real world application is uncertain due to the necessary updates to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules and regulations associated with new types of aircraft to maintain the excellent safety record of aviation.

Future HAZMAT Incidences

With the rise in air cargo activity, hazardous material (HAZMAT) incidences recorded at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) have increased 342% over the past decade (2011-2020) in comparison to the previous decade (2001-2010). However, these HAZMAT events are not airfield or airplane related. On the contrary, these incidences were caused either by a defect in the product, its container, or by human error during transport, such as mishaps with forklifts, conveyors, and accidental puncturing or dropping of the item by an employee. The increase is also due in part to the high growth in e-commerce and the increase in shipments of consumer electronics and pharmaceuticals, many of which contain materials considered hazardous. The more products moved, the higher the chance of safety incidences. In a comparison with other freight modes, air cargo-related HAZMAT events represented only 15% of our region’s total HAZMAT incidences over the past 10 years.

Technology Helping Improve HAZMAT Safety

With the continued growth in air cargo forecasted, one would expect the number of HAZMAT incidences to also rise. However, deployment of automation in the form of advanced package sorting, warehouse transport robots and other Artificial Intelligence (AI) along every step of the parcel’s travel path should gradually reduce the margin of error arising from human contact. Examples of new technology used in handling cargo include specialized automated sorting machines that can identify hazardous packages and separate them for appropriate handling by designated autonomous vehicles equipped with emergency equipment in the event of an incident.

Future Foreign Object Debris

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) has been defined by the FAA as “any object, live or not, located in an inappropriate location in the airport environment that has the capacity to injure airport or airline personnel and damage aircraft.” FOD may be present on runways, taxiways, aprons, or ramps and can affect an aircraft in a variety of ways including during critical phases of flight, such as take-off. (Source: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Airport Safety. (2021). FAA Foreign Object Debris Program)

Green and black machine supported by four long legs stands on a grassy field.

Ghost Robotics’ “Dog” Used to Enhance Airport Safety and Security
Source: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). (2023).

Technology Assisting Staff Inspections

Currently, both CVG and Lunken Airport (LUK) staff physically inspect their properties on foot or in vehicle surveillance drives throughout the day. CVG is testing new technologies that enhance airport safety and security. Advanced robotics, such as a “dog” manufactured by Ghost Robotics, equipped with numerous sensors and cameras, can assist airport staff in monitoring perimeter fence lines for irregularities, which aid staff in all-weather conditions to ensure airfield safety. CVG has also utilized sUAVs for pavement inspections of the apron. These types of advancements would not only save money and staff time but increase safety through greater quality control.

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