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Working to keep airports safe from drones

The attendees at the High-level Workshop on Drone Incursion and Detection at and around Airports

Over the past few years the number of drone incursions at and around airports has been increasing almost exponentially, with no reversal trend in sight. EUROCONTROL-ACI EUROPE’s joint high-level workshop on 3 and 4 October at EUROCONTROL’s Brussels headquarters represented a timely look at drone incursion and detection at airports, and resulted in a set of common actions to tackle the issues identified.

Keeping airports secure by protecting them from unauthorised unmanned aircraft has become a key priority for the aviation community at large, and airports specifically: a drone operating in close proximity to an airport, accidentally or deliberately, is a safety hazard that requires an appropriate and immediate response.

To explore this topic, over 200 stakeholders attended the event from across the entire aviation spectrum, with representatives from airports, airlines, air navigation service providers, regulators, law enforcement and industry, drone manufacturers as well as experts from the detection and mitigation side.

At a packed opening session, Iacopo Prissinotti, EUROCONTROL Director EUROCONTROL Network Management, highlighted:

“How easily the aviation network can be brought to a halt due to one or more rogue drones flying at/around an airport. London Gatwick, London Heathrow and Frankfurt to name just a few have recently seen their airport’s airspace threatened by unauthorised unmanned aircraft.

This is why we are all gathered here today, and we have three main objectives for this workshop: firstly, to reach a common understanding of what is considered as a drone threats; secondly, to outline the ongoing technology developments that are needed to prevent, detect and neutralise unauthorised unmanned aircraft systems; and thirdly, and most importantly, to find mutual agreement so that we can avoid future disruptions from unwanted drone activities at or around airports.”

During the workshop, consensus was reached that the threat of drone incursions at airports and other sensitive areas is real and here to stay. Participants stressed that this is a very complex problem requiring a holistic and integrated approach, albeit one that can be flexibly applied at different locations.

Participants agreed that the focus of further action would be around the following main areas:

  • raise general awareness of public as well as airport and government authorities at all levels about the need for counter drone measures;
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of all actors involved in planning and executing counter drone measures;
  • improve risk assessment methodologies;
  • define requirements specification for counter drone measures, including operational procedures, and technical solutions that are inter-operable with existing infrastructure;
  • estimate budget required to pay for the heavy cost of counter drone measures;
  • create a roadmap for an integrated approach to counter rogue drones at airports.

Looking at the urgency of the threat, the prevailing opinion was that discussions alone are no longer sufficient, and that it is time to start developing solutions. As IATA underlined, it is time to “give assurance to pilots and air traffic controllers that the problem is under control”.

The majority of presentations emphasised the need for an integrated approach that could be achieved by bodies coordinating activities in the identified work areas.

Several activities are already well advanced, including the development of a Concept of Operations by ACI. However, there is still confusion about the actual scope of the counter-drone challenge, and a pressing need for a clear and comprehensive description of the challenge that will permit a requirements specification for countermeasures to be developed.

To avoid diluting current activities and working arrangements, participants agreed on the need first to create an inventory of existing working arrangements and other ongoing activities and projects before initiating new arrangements.

EUROCONTROL will therefore conduct bilateral meetings with selected key actors and prepare a report on the current state of play before the end of February 2020, and organise a workshop to discuss its conclusions.

More about the workshop

Find the agenda, list of speakers and presentations on our dedicated page.