Human Factors in Drone Detection and Mitigation for Aviation: Awareness for Airport Security and Operations Personnel

February 28, 2024 | Ilana Brodesky

When you think of drone incidents and airports what comes to mind? The Dublin Airport incidents? Or what about the Reagan Airport incident? While years have passed since the first infamous Gatwick Airport incident when drones reportedly infiltrated our airspace, causing flight disruptions, collision fears, and a hefty financial loss, this turned out to be NOT an isolated incident, but rather the start of a wave of such incidents. 

Airports around the world are continuously grappling with the challenges posed by drones in our increasingly congested airspace. In fact, in the U.S. airspace alone, there are over 850,000 drones in operation, with two-thirds flown by hobbyists.

So, what can be done to minimize the risks and vulnerabilities our airports face? Currently, some airports, where allowed, have already begun to bolster their security measures by investing in innovative counter-UAS technology, as well as turning to regulatory bodies for guidance. 

Yet, the question remains, is that enough?  

Navigating the drone dilemma demands strategic steps in drone detection and mitigation measures for aviation. And the role of human factors in this equation cannot be understated.

Let’s delve into how human elements are pivotal in maintaining safety and efficiency in aviation operations amidst the growing prevalence of drone incidents.

The Role of Airport Personnel

Security Personnel

Undoubtedly, counter-UAS technologies play a fundamental role in drone detection and mitigation for aviation strategies. But the complexities of drone-related threats demand more than just a technological ‘intervention’ in the form of automated systems. 

Nuanced understanding, informed decision-making, and adaptive strategies form the first line of defense, and this is something that humans can bring to the table. 

Situational Awareness: The Foundation of Safety

With significant advancements in drone speed, agility, range, payload capacity, sensor accuracy, and AI on the horizon, the potential for dangerous scenarios in and around our airports is set to escalate. 

Within this dynamic environment, the expertise of airport security and operations personnel, as well as national, state, and local law enforcement agencies that support and respond to airports in their communities in navigating the complexities of drone operations is crucial. Their keen insight into aviation enables them to identify irregularities and evaluate drone activities with precision. 

What’s more, it’s important to remember that no two airports are the same. Each airport environment has its own set of challenges. This reality underscores the necessity for a profound depth of knowledge and flexibility, ensuring the development and implementation of robust drone detection and mitigation strategies tailored to the specific needs of each airport.

Informed Decision-Making

Informed decision making with drone detection and mitigation

When a drone incident unfolds, informed and proper decisive action becomes imperative. The safety of passengers, crew, airport staff, and communities surrounding the airport could hang in the balance.

Or can it? How severe is the threat? Is it a minor threat that calls for close observation? Or a critical situation that demands immediate activation of counter-UAS measures?  

Professionally trained airport personnel could be armed with the capability to assess the magnitude of a drone threat accurately, consider all possible courses of action, and make well-informed decisions without delay. Not to mention, in situations where multiple considerations come into play, human intuition and judgment of aviation professionals are invaluable. They can navigate the delicate balance between necessary action for airport drone security and broader safety implications, making decisions that respect both security needs and the broader context in which they operate.

The Regulatory Landscape

Of course, we wouldn’t be able to talk about the human factors of drone detection and mitigation without mentioning the critical role of regulatory bodies, such as the FAA, EASA, and CAA. These organizations are dedicated to crafting and revising regulations and guidelines to navigate the ever-increasing complexity of drone usage and its implications for airspace safety.

The development of a comprehensive framework for drone countermeasures is an ongoing process. However, it is not possible to have a standardized ‘one-fits-all’ approach, due to the unique characteristics of each airport and the diverse operational applications of drones.

With that in mind, counter-drone strategies necessitate a tailored, human-informed approach to combine both compliance with regulatory guidance with on-the-ground decisions made by aviation professionals.

Reporting and Cooperation

Drone detection and mitigation reporting

While most recreational and commercial drone users are law-abiding citizens, keeping up with evolving rules and regulations, we can’t discount ignorant, careless, or criminal drone users, who are responsible for the many dangerous incidents that occur in and around our airports. 

Where and when detection and mitigation are allowed, reporting procedures may come into effect. Airport personnel may be required to report drone sightings or incidents to relevant authorities, such as the FAA or local law enforcement. Understanding reporting protocols and timelines is essential for effective response.

Moreover, cooperation between airlines, aviation authorities, Law Enforcement agencies, and airport personnel is critical. Establishing lines of communication and cooperation can expedite responses to drone incidents and mitigate risks. 

Public Awareness in Drone Detection and Mitigation for Aviation

While not explicitly part of their typical job description, airport personnel play a pivotal role in ensuring the safety of passengers and staff during a drone incident. To that end, raising public awareness about the dangers of drones in and around airports is of paramount importance.

One effective approach is active engagement in public awareness campaigns designed to educate drone operators on drone legislation and regulations, including where they can safely operate their drones, and where such activities are strictly prohibited. This proactive approach aims to prevent unauthorized drone incursions into restricted areas, ultimately contributing to the safety of aircraft operations and those on the ground.

Drone detection and mitigation public awareness

Implementing Response Protocols for Effective Drone Detection and Mitigation for Aviation

When a drone is spotted, there should be a range of response protocols in place. These protocols may encompass a range of actions, from deploying C-UAS at airports, when and where allowed, to adjusting flight schedules or even temporarily halting air traffic.

Whatever the protocol, strict compliance is key in bolstering safety protocols but also in fostering a cohesive and effective strategy to counteract the risks presented by unauthorized drones.

Employing Drone Detection and Mitigation for Aviation Technology

Finally, airport staff are not alone in their efforts for drone detection and mitigation. When allowed by local regulations, the role of authorized airport staff, security personnel, and assigned law enforcement is significantly enhanced with innovative RF cyber detection and takeover technology, such as EnforceAir2, which provides substantial backing to those on the front lines of airspace security. 

But don’t just take my word for it, learn more about EnforceAir2’s participation in the FAA’s airport drone detection evaluation program, also known as the 383 program, at Atlantic City International Airport (ACY) and Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR).

Renowned for its accuracy in detecting drones, our system enables personnel to pinpoint and focus on legitimate threats with confidence. Moreover, the capability of EnforceAir2, when allowed, to neutralize and safely redirect hostile drones from the sensitive environment you try to protect is central to averting security breaches.

What sets EnforceAir2 apart is its real-time intervention capacity, empowering security personnel to respond swiftly and proactively, significantly reducing the potential for human error that is more likely to occur when using jamming or kinetic methods. The control and precision EnforceAir2 provides airport personnel are invaluable for maintaining safety and operational integrity.

Ready to take your drone detection and mitigation for aviation strategy to the next level? Reach out to me today to see our drone detection and mitigation solution in action and discover the future of safeguarding your airspace.

Ilana Brodesky, ACE, IACE, is the Aviation and Airport Security Business Development Manager at D-Fend Solutions. She helps North American airport security teams understand the constantly changing threat posed by rogue drones and how to best detect and mitigate sUASs in the sensitive aviation environment.

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