Dedrone UK airport drone incursion study finds “1.93 incidents a day”

Counter UAS (C-UAS) systems manufacturer Dedrone has compiled a report Dedrone UK Airport Counter-Drone Study 2018 following the installation of its equipment at four undisclosed airports across the United Kingdom. Drone activity was monitored at four locations for a total of 148 days, and 285 drones were detected. The report outlines the type of technology used, a breakdown of the data collected and the main findings.

Key learnings include:

  • The problem of unauthorized drones at airports is real, not anecdotal: Drones have appeared and disrupted UK airports in the past year, causing loss of revenue due to closed runways.
  • Drone pilots fly a broad spectrum of technology from different drone manufacturers, and detection technology must be able to capture all drone activity: Drone detection systems must be able to detect all kinds of drones, regardless of the manufacturer. While DJI is the global market leader in drone technology by sales, they only represented 44% of the incursions at the airports studied.
  • UK drone pilots come out to fly at airports around the same time and days, and airports can strategically prepare for increased incursions during these periods: The majority of the incursions occurred on weekend afternoons when drone hobbyists may be flying drones to capture footage for personal use.

According to the conclusions of the report:

“This data provides unrefuted evidence of the presence of drones at airports. Airport operators must consider how to approach drone safety measures and determine the additional risks that drones pose to their overall security program. Airports are multi-faceted security centers. They have officers monitoring the airfield, tarmac and fences, people on the ground following cargo and passenger baggage, and managers of warehouses that contain fleet maintenance programs. Thousands of safety and security elements exist on a single day in the life of an airport, and each component has a different security risk. Aviation regulators and airports are acutely aware of the dangers drones pose to their airspace. However, there is a gap of knowledge and understanding of the intention of drones within physical grounds of airports. All drones near airports are a threat, regardless of the pilot’s intention. Airport managers must be proactive in protecting their operations from incursions.

“International aviation regulators have been slow to provide guidance to airports as to the types of counter-drone technology they are allowed to incorporate into their operations. This lag to adopt drone detection technology at airports will only become increasingly more dangerous as more incidents occur. As seen with the Gatwick Airport shut down, drones are going to cause damage and disrupt operations, leaving passengers frustrated and airlines blocked out of safe and clear airspace to fly.

Notable airport drone incursions:

  • Flights diverted, passengers delayed, and operations stalled when drones enter international airports: Oslo Airport reported that in a single day, two drones were spotted and forced the airport to halt all approaches and departures until the air cleared. One drone pilot was identified to be a local real estate agent who was taking pictures of a nearby property. Auckland Airport also reported downtime of over 30 minutes after spotting a drone, and Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, delaying all arrivals and departures for 15 minutes.
  • Drone-Linked Aircraft Crash Investigated by Federal Agencies: A student helicopter pilot and instructor struck a tree while trying to evade collision with a small drone. Once the pilot saw the drone, the instructor took the controls, and after maneuvering away from the drone, the copter’s tail hit the tree as they attempted a landing. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating.
  • Drone ‘put 130 lives at risk’ as a plane was trying to land at Gatwick Airport. The plane’s first officer told investigators that the ‘startle factor of the drone’s proximity’ nearly caused him to disconnect the cockpit’s autopilot system and take ‘avoiding action’. Instead, he landed the plane to safety at a nearby airport.
  • Canadian passenger plane collides with rogue drone. “This should not have happened,” shared Canadian Transportation Minister Marc Garneau following the crash. “If a drone were to hit the window of a cockpit and incapacitate the pilot, or were to damage in anyway an engine, this could have catastrophic results.”
  • “It’s unclear how the drone got there.” A crashed drone was found at John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport in New York City during a routine maintenance check.
  • Flights halted after drone is spotted. A drone camera was being used to prepare a film shoot near Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, India. Three people were arrested in this matter.
  • Chinese airport experiences multiple drone incidents, prompting dramatic security measures: More than 10,000 passengers were stranded at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport after more than 60 flights were interrupted by four drones.
  • Drone in near miss with plane near Edinburgh Airport: An unmanned craft was flying about 20-30 metres away from a Loganair flight at about 4,000ft. No-one was injured and the plane successfully landed.

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