The threat of drones is a growing concern around the perimeter and in the airspace surrounding airports.

According to a UK Airprox Board report, the number of times a drone endangered the safety of an aircraft in the UK airspace rose more than a third in 2018 compared to the year before. The highest-profile recent drone incident was at UK’s Gatwick Airport, where a drone sighting last December triggered a three-day shutdown of the UK’s second busiest airport, disrupted the travel plans of 140,000 people and affected 1,000 flights.

Unauthorised drone activity

And there have been other recent incidents of drone disruptions at airports:

  • At Heathrow Airport in January 2019, flights were temporarily stopped for about an hour ‘as a precautionary measure’ after a drone was reported. The UK Airprox Board recorded 39 dangerously close drone encounters at Heathrow in 2018.
  • In the U.S., flights into Newark Liberty International Airport were disrupted for about 90 minutes in January after a drone sighting.
  • Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, closed its airspace for about 30 minutes in February due to suspected unauthorised drone activity.
  • In March and again in May, air traffic at Frankfurt Airport in Germany was grounded due to drone sightings – for about 30 minutes in the first instance and about an hour in the second.

Drone detection systems

Security has a role in preventing drone incidents, although pilots often report them

Security has a role in preventing drone incidents, although pilots often report them. At Gatwick, the initial reports of a drone over the airfield came from airport security officers. After the incident, the UK government rushed through legislation to enlarge the drone exclusion zones around airports to a maximum of 5 km (up from the previous 1 km).

In the U.S., the exclusion zone around airports is a radius of about 5 miles, and even more in sensitive areas such as the National Capital Region around Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where restrictions are 15 to 30 miles. Airports in the U.S. are allowed to deploy drone detection systems but may not use counterdrone technology (such as shooting down the drones), which is reserved for the Justice Department and Homeland Security.

Dedicated new technology

News that drone threats to aircraft are increasing should come as no surprise,” says Simon Barnes, Business Development Manager – Airports Europe for Genetec. “Recent reported incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. As drones become increasingly ubiquitous – both from hobbyists and their growing use in professional arenas – we can expect to see many more incidents.”

From speaking to airports across the world, Barnes has learned that two of the most pressing challenges they face are how they secure their perimeters (as intruders become increasingly sophisticated) and identifying ‘Friend from Foe’ as operational needs must be maintained. “When it specifically comes to drone detection, the short-term temptation can be to introduce a dedicated new technology to address this specific threat,” he commented.

More comprehensive response

We need to work with technology, not against it, in order to ensure public safety and security"

However, the last thing a functioning airport needs is an independent system that isn’t unified with all of the other security measures in place. Only when the data from all of these inputs is visualised in one place can an airport begin to make sense of its environment and enable a fast and efficient response to evolving challenges such as the insider threat and malicious drone activities. We fully expect airports to respond to this changing landscape, to help ensure a more comprehensive response.”

Philip Avery, Managing Director of Navtech Radar, adds: “In today's current climate of increased national threats, we need to work fast to keep up with modern risks. However, creating new, complicated laws open to misinterpretation or enforcing a complete ban on privately owned drones seem like Luddite solutions that undermine the potential of innovative technology. We need to work with technology, not against it, in order to ensure public safety and security.”

Help mitigate risk

Navtech Radar sells the AdvanceGuard system for drone detection. Tavcom Training, part of the Linx International Group, has responded to requests from the security industry for expert training in order to be better prepared for and mitigate against the threat of Unmanned Aerial Systems (better known as drones). The company offers a two-day Drone Detection classroom-based course for £375+VAT.

Our drone detection course gives security professionals advice from experts"

The responses to the [recent] airport drone attacks were played out in the spotlight, with much public debate regarding the seeming lack of a pre-defined plan of action to prevent or contain such an incident,” explains Sarah Hayward-Turton, Sales and Marketing Director at the Linx International Group.

Our drone detection course gives security professionals advice from experts in drone technology, to help mitigate risk and implement countermeasures to thwart unauthorised drone activity.” The course will be offered again in November 2019 and in February 2020.

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Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SourceSecurity.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SourceSecurity.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

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