Airport task force recommends solution for disruptive drones

A task force of US airports and the civilian drone industry is recommending that the airborne devices be required to broadcast their identity to help prevent disruptions like those that shut down London’s Gatwick last year.

The task force, established by the Airports Council International-North America and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, called for speeding up the adoption of drone-ID technology in a report that was released on Friday.

“As this report makes clear, airport security is no longer simply limited to the perimeter of the airport; measures must be taken to protect beyond the perimeter for departing and approaching aircraft.” Kevin Burke, the Airports Council president, said in a press release accompanying the report.

That recommendation by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on UAS Mitigation at Airports is likely to face a backlash from hobbyists who oppose having to pay for an ID broadcast system. UAS stands for unmanned aircraft systems.

Disruptions by hobbyists’ drones pose concerns for both airport security and companies such as Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc. that are developing ways of delivering goods by drone.

The task force calls for the US Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada to create a standardized approach that would outfit drones with technology that could be used to alert air traffic control and law enforcement to incursions – and track down violators.

The report also recommends campaigns to increase public awareness of the dangers of operating drones on or near airport property.

“As we’ve seen, recent incursions around airports demonstrate that more needs to be done and at a faster pace than the regulatory process allows, which is why the work of the task force is so important,” Burke said.

Forced closures

Gatwick was closed for more than a day last year after drones were spotted flying in the area. London’s other main airport, Heathrow, briefly shut down in January when a drone was sighted there. Similar situations have occurred at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and the Dubai International Airport.

Last year, the FAA warned airports of flaws in anti-drone technology. During government tests, tracking radar was unable to properly identify drones. The radar failed to track a drone that was hovering in place, and it also falsely identified drones. The thicket of radio signals around airports makes tracking even more difficult.

In May, the FAA released updated guidance that establishes a list of requirements airports need to meet in regards to detection equipment. Radar used to monitor planes doesn’t work for small drones, but the report suggests that airports seek legal advice in choosing specialised systems, as some of that technology may violate regulations.

“This interim report represents a significant step towards ensuring airports, the UAS industry, and government are on the same page and working towards solutions for UAS in and around airports,” Deborah Flint, the co-chair of the task force and the chief executive officer of Los Angeles World Airports, said in the press release. “Much more work needs to be done, but we are now moving in the right direction.”

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