Drone Detection: A New Necessity

2019-07-26  |  5 min read 

Airports increasingly face threats, challenges, and complications from drones. In December 2018, drones famously resulted in the shutdown of the United Kingdom’s Gatwick airport. A similar incident occurred in Germany this past May, when a drone sighting resulted in the suspension of flights at Frankfurt Airport. Threats from drones range from surveillance on sensitive areas to gathering intel, which may be used for nefarious purposes ranging from airline collisions to even carrying and/or dropping a substance. Given the seemingly countless possibilities, drone detection is increasingly a priority.

Drone detection comprises the following steps:

  1. Detect the presence of the drone and the controller.
  2. Identify the type of drone down to the make and model.
  3. Pinpoint the drone’s location using a direction-finding or geolocation algorithm.
  4. Implement a mitigation approach according to the scenario (for example, preventing drones from flying over sensitive areas).

Such solutions should not solely be implemented when a problem occurs. Instead, airports and sensitive areas should constantly monitor their environments. Spectrum monitoring detects, identifies, and locates interferers and other problem signal events like drones. Once put in place, a spectrum monitoring system will continuously survey, analyze, alarm, and notify with an email or alarm to warn of a new signal or if proprietary communications signals are being affected by something like interference or distortion.

The goal is to have a consistently clear view of the signal environment in the airspace or sensitive area. This involves being able to differentiate between authorized signals and unknown ones that may pose threats. If alerted immediately to a foreign signal or problem event, air traffic controllers can respond in real time. Airport disruptions should be greatly reduced as a result.

The benefits of this proactive approach are very significant. After all, the Gatwick Airport incident resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of flights, affecting an estimated 140,000 passengers. The Frankfurt incident is widely reported to have resulted in the cancellation of 143 flights.

Shown is an example of drone/unmanned aerial system (UAS) provisions provided by a government agency - in this case, the United States Federal Aviation Administration. (Image courtesy of the FAA,

Despite the impact of these drone incidents on the airline industry, some may have the opinion that the highly cautious response to drones is an overreaction. According to an article in Forbes, How Much Of A Threat Do Drones Pose To Air Travel? Here's What You Should Know, “The good news is that the vast majority of consumer drones weigh much less than that, with the most popular models weighing in below ten pounds. But a series of studies performed at Virginia Tech suggest that the concentrated mass of drones compared to birds makes impact with a drone more damaging than that with a bird of a similar weight. Given the unknowns, the best option is clearly not to hit a drone at all, but as we’ve seen, that’s not so easy to guarantee.”

Most people have heard stories of “bird strikes” and the resulting engine failure. Certainly, airplanes want to avoid collisions at all costs. While drone regulations exist or are close to being passed in countries across the world, there is no guarantee that such rules will be enforced. Legislation will continue to evolve to tackle this issue, bringing legal implications for drone operators. Yet the key to drone safety – around airplanes and other sensitive areas – is monitoring the spectrum for new, unknown signals. If their presence is immediately known, risks can be mitigated before disaster strikes. The controller’s location also is pinpointed, ensuring that the operator will be held accountable for any illegal operations.

Click here to try out our comprehensive tools for spectrum monitoring, interference analysis, signal identification, and geolocation or visit our site for an overview of our signal monitoring solutions.