Find out how Heathrow saved £20 million on the design process for its third runway, with zero delays to the airport

In collaboration with:

Heathrow worked with Sensat to expedite data capture in an essential aviation project saving £20m.

The project

To support Europe’s busiest airport, the Heathrow Airport team required a highly-accurate 3D digital model of the 29 km2 site. This was to facilitate the design process for a third runway, better engage with local communities, and reduce the need for engineers to be on site.

£20 million

Costs saved over the course of the project by saving 100,000 worker-hours

The solution

Utilising drones, Sensat safely captured the required data in just 16 days, with zero delays to the airport. Sensat’s drone solution meant the data could be collected quickly, without the need for land access approval, and without putting boots on the ground. This saved an estimated 100,000 worker-hours and £20m in project costs which was as much as 40x cheaper than a traditional ground- based survey.

Efficient and collaborative planning:

To ensure non-disruption to airport operations and alignment with daytime patterns of runway alternation, Sensat worked closely with National Air Traffic Services (NATS), Heathrow Control Tower, Airfield Operations, Horus Security, and six different police forces surrounding the airport.

How Sensat’s platform expedites design:
  • The visualisations created* from the drone survey included a high-density point cloud, DSM, orthomosaic, and 3D mesh.
  • The captured data, consisting of over 19 billion data points, is hosted on Sensat’s cloud-based platform being used as a digital native workspace, allowing multiple stakeholders across Heathrow and the design team to easily visualise and interact with multiple large data sets. The data can be integrated with CAD and BIM to provide an incredibly detailed, versatile and collaborative environment. Thus reducing the risk of errors and expediting the design process.
“This capability has seen the innovative and safe deployment of drone technology in close proximity to Heathrow Airport, demonstrating the value that drone [data] can bring to the early stages of this complex, major infrastructure project.”

Emma Gilthorpe Executive Director, Heathrow


This project is a testament to the partnership between Sensat and Heathrow, who worked together to deliver innovation on a complex aviation project. The solution allowed a huge area to be surveyed faster and cheaper than ever could have been achieved on foot.

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