Canadian drone detection pilot programme reports high success rate at Ottawa International

The Ottawa International Airport Authority reports early success during a drone detection pilot project in collaboration with Indro Robotics, Aerial Armor, QinetiQ and Nav Canada. According to the airport authority, the project detected an unauthorized 11-minute flight just north of the airfield on 15 March 2021. The same drone flew 24 flights during March, including flights close to the Civic Hospital Air Ambulance Helipad, the CHEO Helipad and Parliament Hill.

“We know what type of drone it was, its unique ID number, its flight time, flight path and its maximum altitude,” says Michael Beaudette, Ottawa International’s VP of Security, Emergency Management and Customer Transportation. “It should not have been flying in any of those locations and in doing so, was in violation of Transport Canada regulations.”

There are two types of technology being demonstrated in Ottawa’s drone detection pilot program: radio frequency (RF) detection and micro Doppler radar.

RF drone detection is provided by Indro Robotics and Remote Sensing. Indro installed an RF receiver station on the roof of the passenger terminal building that can detect drones operating on 2.4 and 5.8 ghz within a 15-kilometre radius.

“Our system “interrogates” each device to gain more information to pin down GPS point X, Y and Z – Z being important as we want to know how high the device is flying,” explains Philip Reece, CEO of Indro Robotics. “We can also determine the make and size of the device, which helps determine what kind of threat it may pose. For example, a small, slow moving drone that’s far away is less of a threat than a large drone on an airport flight path.”

The system includes a user interface that provides real-time and consolidated historical reports including drone ID numbers in most cases.

“In March of this year, the Indro system detected 1626 flights within the 15-kilometre zone, including 64 flights that occurred at night,” says Ottawa’s Michael Beaudette. “The totals were up significantly over January, as the weather got warmer and people decided to take their drones out for a fly.”

The second technology being demonstrated as part of the program is a micro Doppler radar solution called Obsidian from British firm QinetiQ. Obsidian uses millimetric wave radar – 9-12 ghz – to detect the movement of the small spinning propellers on a drone flying anywhere within 2 kilometres of the airport.

“Our solution is the product of QinetiQ’s decades in the defence sector, and our involvement with radar since the World War II,” says QinetiQ representative Paul Romano. “The most serious threats to safety are not likely to be conventional drones that respond to electronic interrogation. Radar can detect and track drones that, for whatever reason, can’t be detected by RF or don’t want to be. Ultimately, it’s all about identifying all potential threats so that appropriate action can be taken to keep aircraft safe.”

Precisely what actions should be taken when a drone is detected flying unauthorised is also part of the program.

“As part of this project, we’ve been conducting tabletop exercises with our partners at Nav Canada, Transport Canada, airlines, emergency services and law enforcement,” says Ottawa’s Michael Beaudette. “Developing appropriate response protocols and responsibilities ultimately has to be part of the solution.”

“It’s forbidden to fly a drone within 5.6 kilometres of the centre of any airport in Canada,” said Ottawa’s President and CEO, Mark Laroche. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented it from happening. In March of 2021, our program detected and reported on 101 drone flights within that 5.6-kilometre radius. April’s numbers were even higher at 167. A number of these were flown during hours of darkness and some exceeding altitudes of 1,600 feet.” He says the purpose of the program is neither to shame drone operators nor scare the public.

“The vast majority of drone operators aren’t out there trying to disrupt aviation nor threaten aircraft,” says Mark Laroche. “But we need to know where they are and if they do pose a threat, be ready to take the appropriate action that we as an airport can take to ensure safety. What we are seeing and reporting to Transport Canada is a very disturbing trend that requires a quick response to reverse the number of drone operators flying in restricted areas.”

The program will continue through to the end of 2021.

“Drones are becoming almost ubiquitous, with exponential growth in sales to both hobbyists and commercial operators,” says Michael Beaudette. “As an airport operator, we felt it was vitally important that we test systems to detect drones operating on flight paths, near the airport and in other restricted zones to help ensure the safety of air crews and passengers.”

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