Real time drone ID will be critical to protect airports from rogue drones

Aviation authorities will be prevented from accelerating unmanned operations over people and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) until remote ID is used as standard, according to an influential expert group which insists that whatever technology is ultimately selected, tracking has to be a critical component of future UAS detection and identification.

The US/Canadian Blue Ribbon Task Force on UAS Mitigation at Airports in an interim report urges the regulatory authorities to prioritise the development of remote ID rules, and in the meantime, incentivise voluntary compliance, with waivers for commercial drone users and air taxi operators.

Remote ID should also be interoperable with ATC automation used by the air navigation service provider so that information including ID and position can be plotted by air traffic controllers. Any standards must also be interoperable internationally―a UAS purchased in one country must be visible in the system of another.

The Task Force was commissioned in April by Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) to study the benefits and threats of UAS in and around airports and to make recommendations to industry and government.

In the report which features lessons learned from London Gatwick’s December 2018 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) incursion incident, it makes over 20 recommendations to industry and government on steps that should be taken to safeguard airports from UAS incursions.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force is comprised of former government officials, security professionals and aviation executives including Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and Neil Wilson, chief executive of Nav Canada

Task Force co-chair Deborah Flint, chief executive of Los Angeles World Airports, stated: “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. Much more work needs to be done, but we are now moving in the right direction.”

“Commercial UAS applications create new opportunities and add tremendous value to airport operations,” said Task Force co-chair Michael Huerta, who served as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration from 2011-2018. “The Task Force also examined the gaps in safety and security and the need for government and airports to have clear policies to manage UAS incidents, both from a proactive and defensive posture.”

In addition to the review of London Gatwick’s 2018 UAS incursion for lessons learned, the interim report provides a high-level overview of current technology, examines the current policy landscape and challenges faced by airports, offers initial recommendations to government and industry, and looks forward at additional areas for future Task Force work.

As well as recommendations on remote ID rulemaking and technology, including incentivising voluntary compliance and ensuring data is made available to airport operations and public safety professionals on a real-time basis, the Task Force also recommends:

  • communication and response planning, including UAS incursion response plan coordination,
  • risk assessment, including defining roles and responsibilities and advance site-planning assessments,
  • response management, including long-term airport closure planning and establishing clear lines of responsibility for reopening an airport after a UAS incursion,
  • standardisation, testing and design, including a call for more technology testing and eventual standards, better data collection, recording and sharing, and a recommendation on geofencing, and
  • education and enforcement, including knowledge tests and a call for robust enforcement.

ACI-NA president and chief executive Kevin Burke commended the Task Force’s initial work: “This initial report establishes the key issues that airports, state and local officials, the UAS industry, and the federal government must address to manage UAS operations in the vicinity of airports safely, securely, and effectively,” said Burke.

“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. 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.”

AUVSI president and chief executive Brian Wynne, who recently testified before the United States Senate on UAS security, suggested that the Task Force’s work is helping to address UAS mitigation from an airspace management perspective.

“The initial work of the Task Force further underscores the importance of approaching UAS security from an overall airspace management perspective, rather than focusing solely on how to interdict an errant drone,” said Wynne. “Only by working together can industry and government develop holistic policy solutions that give us the framework we need to keep the skies secure while still allowing the nascent UAS industry to truly take off.”

The Task Force – comprised of former government officials, aviation leaders, airport operators, and security officials – brings together a cross-section of stakeholders representing the airport, UAS, and manned aviation communities to refine procedural practices and provide a policy framework to address the timely and critical issue of incursions by unauthorized UAS at airports and how best to mitigate this threat.

The Task Force said it conferred with dozens of industry stakeholders including airports, UAS manufacturers, airlines, pilot groups, US and Canadian government officials, military, commercial businesses, aviation stakeholders, and academia to issue initial findings and recommendations.

Over the coming months, the Task Force said it will continue to meet with subject matter experts in UAS technology, national security and defence, law enforcement, government, and those working in the National Air Space, including UAS operators, commercial and general aviation community, and air traffic controllers. The Task Force will also solicit comments on its website from interested parties as it conducts its work, and will continue to examine and refine standard operating procedures in response to unauthorised UAS and the policy framework.

The Task Force will release a comprehensive report later in 2019, followed by key congressional and governmental meetings in support of its recommendations. The final report will include additional topics including privacy, liability, lines of authority, and future delegation of counter-UAS authority, and will offer a template for airports to follow as response protocols are developed. The goal is for this work to lead to and inform future conversations about UAS mitigation at other facilities, such as national landmarks, stadiums, prisons, military bases, and other critical infrastructure.