ECHO Airport Services, a division of Yamabiko Europe, aims to help airports become safer, greener and less expensive to operate thanks to robotic mowing of their safety areas.
The ECHO Airport Services solution is based on turf mowing robots developed and manufactured in Waver, Belgium by Yamabiko Europe, which has over 5,000 robots deployed on sports fields, grass farms, and parks and gardens.
A test installation has been deployed since 2017 at Sola Airport (Stavanger, Norway). Operating 24/7, 26 robots mow 56Ha of safety areas alongside the main runway. Each electric robot is dedicated to a specific area of up to 2.5Ha, which it never leaves. Each area is mowed at least once every 72 hours, maintaining the grass short and healthy, and, importantly, keeping birds away.
“Robotic mowing is safer than traditional mowing approaches,” explains Didier Bennert, CEO ECHO Airport Services. “It leads to a significant decrease in bird and mammal presence and, therefore, in bird strikes, as experienced by Sola Airport over the last four years. The robots have zero greenhouse gas emissions since they are powered by photovoltaic charging stations. And they are cheaper to operate than traditional mowing techniques.”
Sola Airport increased from an initial deployment of two robots in 2017 to the current 26, indicating Avinor’s satisfaction with the solution. “When, initially, they made the decision to experiment with mowing robots, their primary objective was to reduce the operational burden associated with night mowing operations, as well as reduce their ecological footprint,” says Bennert. “Ever since, the marked reduction in bird and mammal presence has become a critical benefit and a driver for Avinor, the operator of airports in Norway, to consider additional deployments across the country.”
Indeed, the potential for robotic mowing to help reduce the presence of birds and wildlife is a key benefit. Utilising technology that significantly reduces the number of bird strikes not only saves money, it also has the potential of saving lives.
Innovative features to increase safety of operation
ECHO Airport Services is embarked on a permanent product innovation strategy. Its mowing robots have evolved to accommodate the rough character of airport safety areas. “The grass on a runway strip is radically different than the one on a soccer field and we had to adapt our robots so that they can cope with it,” Bennert explains. “We have also been improving our navigation system. With the help of high precision GPS-based technology, we aim to increase the mowing capacity of each robot from 2.5Ha to over 7.5Ha and adopt pattern mowing. This increased capacity has been tested during the summer at Sola Airport and will be commercially available in 2021.”
Meanwhile, ECHO Airport Services is also developing and patenting several innovative features to increase safety of operation alongside an airport runway.
Several airports across the world have already expressed interest in the proposed robotic mowing solutions. Additional test installations will be deployed at Brussels South Charleroi Airport and Liege Airport in spring 2021, while other projects are in preparation.
Bennert adds that the aim is to have 500 robots deployed at 50 airports in five years. “Clearly, we believe that there is huge potential for long-term development. Our initial focus has been Europe, but we have already received interest from airports located in the US, Japan, and even New Zealand.”