Gatwick Airport, which operates 300 airside vehicles, has announced a trial of electric-powered autonomous vehicles that will see workers shuttled between popular locations on the airfield when it starts later this summer.

The trial is thought to be the first of its kind for any airport in the world and - if successful and scaled up – could lead to Gatwick's transport needs being met from a much smaller pool of autonomous vehicles, reducing the need for such large vehicle fleets, reducing emissions and saving on costs. At present 90 percent of its vehicles are stationery as staff attend to aircraft and passengers.

If the technology proves a success this project may be the precursor to a wide range of other autonomous vehicles being used including aircraft push back tugs, passenger load bridges, baggage tugs and transportation buses.

No passengers or aircraft will be involved in this trail, which will be limited to airside roads between the airport’s North and South terminals.

The trial will be run in partnership with Oxbotica, that has developed the software that enables vehicles to run autonomously without reliance on GPS or any other technology outside the vehicle. Oxbotica vehicles are currently involved in other trials on UK roads.

Data collected from the Gatwick pilot study will demonstrate that autonomous vehicles can work safely on an airfield, which is a complex environment with a wide range of different vehicle types moving in many directions both on and off road systems.

The data will be used in dialogue with the Department of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority and others. XL Catlin – a global insurance company - is also interested in being part of trial to learn more on autonomous airfield vehicles from an insurance perspective.

If the trial proves the technology fit for purpose for an airport, then additional uses can be explored. IATA – the trade body for the world’s airlines – advocates more than 40 use cases for autonomous vehicles including push back tugs, passenger load bridges, baggage vehicles etc.