London Gatwick Airport’s experiences in December 2018 will mark the turning point when FAA, airports, and federal and local law enforcement significantly advanced their efforts to address security and safety concerns posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the airport environment.
But, about eight months later, are we closer to addressing this problem? It’s complicated. AAAE, airports, and our government partners have been working closely to implement critical first steps to address these threats, including the development of protocols for responding to sightings and detection events. There are still numerous questions surrounding the authority and effectiveness of existing UAS detection systems and the longterm vision on who is responsible for monitoring the airspace surrounding airports. These unresolved issues are impeding the ability to fully address the risks posed by small UAS.
SMALL UAS HAVING A BIG IMPACT
How much of a problem has small UAS posed to airports? The number of incidents where drones have disrupted airport operations, either intentionally or carelessly, continues to rise, both in the U.S. and across the world. Gatwick, Heathrow, Newark, Changi, Frankfurt, and Dallas Fort Worth airports all have experienced operational disruptions because of nearby drone activity. As of December 2018, FAA had certified more than 116,000 remote pilots under Part 107, exceeding the agency’s forecasts. The agency’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability program has facilitated over 47,000 auto approvals for access to controlled airspace around airports. The number of sightings and potential disruptions is likely to grow, and the effect on airports can be substantial. In the starkest example, Gatwick Airport’s 36-hour shutdown led to over 160,000 people missing flights, thousands of stranded passengers in airport terminals, and airports and air carriers collectively incurring £20 million-£50 million ($24 million-$60 million) in economic losses. By comparison, a U.S. Core 30 airport (an airport in a major metropolitan area with the highest volume of traffic) could experience losses in the range of $2.5 million to $4.5 million per hour if drones forced a closure of the airport.
MITIGATING THREATS THROUGH TECHNOLOGY Remote Identification and Tracking. Equipping all small drones with remote identification (ID) and tracking technology is still the primary solution touted to address UAS threats near airports in the future. This technology would enable FAA, airports and law enforcement to monitor the exact location of each drone operating near the airport, along with the location of the user. And the technology already exists. DJI, the largest civilian drone manufacturer, incorporates remote ID and tracking technology into all its drones and allows third parties to monitor that drone using a system called Aeroscope. Although Aeroscope only can detect DJI drones, many airports have begun acquiring this system because of its affordability and the detailed information it can provide to enable contact with the operator. The regulatory framework, however, is still not ready and universal equipage of remote ID for all drones is not in our foreseeable future. FAA needs to promulgate regulations requiring this equipment for all drones. Although the agency officially is scheduled to issue a proposed rule in September 2019, this is expected to be pushed back until further in the fall, if not early 2020. Thus, a final rule could not be produced until at least 2021. Counter-UAS Systems. While remote ID remains the longterm solution, FAA and airports are focused on enabling more widespread use of UAS detection and mitigation technology. Mitigation systems are those intended to disable, destroy or disrupt the operation of the drone, whereas detection is used only for monitoring and tracking the location of a drone and, in certain cases, the user. A number of hurdles remain that prevent the broader adoption of these systems. First, the regulatory and legal framework for operating counter UAS systems has been difficult to navigate. Only four federal agencies have the unambiguous authority to detect and interdict a drone threat near an airport: the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, and Energy. In contrast, airports, FAA, and local law enforcement cannot use countermeasures to disable or destroy a drone. According to an information package circulated by FAA in May 2019, airports must consider legal and regulatory factors before acquiring and deploying a UAS detection system.
Source: Airport Magazine
By JUSTIN BARKOWSKI