PAPI Calibration with the Use of drone technology


Hello guys,

I am researching the possibility for using a UAV calibrating The runway PAPI. I am not aware of all the methods for PAPI calibration but I am aware that our 2 local airports use full scale aircrafts to calibrate them and the costs rise at about 20-30k EUR per year for both calibrations.   

As you can imagine the costs are massive for such a task compared to the potentials of a UAV platform. At the time being I am not researching whether legislation will or will not allow such a calibration method so i am only focused on the technical and practical difficulties. 

At the moment I don't have any theoritical or practical expirience on calibrating PAPI so i can't really be sure whether a UAV can be up to the task so any input on this would Appreciated. 

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  • I don´t know how it works in US and Canada, but Here in Spain there is only one Airworthiness certificate for UAV, maybe the first step is that, the guys who got it here spent 9Million Euro in a 7 year period in the project. This is a Hi Tech Issue for big budgets.

  • If it is like the US FAA system they are certifying more than the PAPI.  The PAPI is one of 5 parts of the they typical ILS landing system.  The papi is just beams of lights set out at a specific angle.  The planes that are flying are normally measuring radio signal strength, side course and vertical course limits, bending of the signals, strenght of the signal at various distances, and making sure that all of those are within the specifications that are published in the TERP manual.  A quad would be great for it.  But it would also have to lift hundreds of pounds of radio antenna and equipment.

  • I don't think there is an issue with the local authorities. The question is whether ICAO rules and regulations would come in conflict with the suggested method of calibration. I need to find the relevant annex and take a look at it and see if there is any "window" to apply the method and if there is a reference regarding uav which i doubt it what are the requirements.  

  • Try to find your country standad, FAA web is a great source of any kind of aviation info.

  • Thanks for the info luis. The pdf is gonna be a great source to begin with.
  • First thing to do is research on Laboratory Aircraft and all equipment on board, In Helicopters Its made more custom, have a look on this:

  • It'd be a great job for a quad.  Just fly vertical columns at various spacings along the approach path with a video pointed down the runway centreline and determine at what altitude each light changes colour.  It's the sort of thing a drone is good for. 

  • In the article they were saying that they used to do it with a helicopter after the airport closed at night but it was rather expensive and quite noisy (GVA is really close to the city and both the approaches pass above geneva's suburbs )

  • Well if i am correct the PAPI, since wikipedia is full of scientific sentences, is just a visual aid for the pilot in order to correct the altitude. With a UAV flying in predefined coordinates and taking pictures of the several approach phases and then evaluate them on the fly or on ground I don't see any reason not to be a very efficient way of calibrating PAPI. Of course this idea is aiming for small airports that have enough time to accomodate a uav in the approach path.

  • i guess it flies to know altitudes so as to match the glide-slopes for the PAPI system at a known point and then the video is checked to make sure the right color is seen. for the runway light its is just a mater of visually comparing what is on the video and what is on the plans

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