WARNING! A CROSSROAD AHEAD – What Should Airports Look for When Selecting a C-UAS System?

December 28, 2023 | Ilana Brodesky

Five years have passed since the infamous incident at Gatwick Airport. Since then, some airports around the world started to ‘arm’ themselves with counter-drone tech to protect themselves from drone intrusions.

In reality, the Gatwick incident is not merely a past occurrence, but rather an ongoing reality for many airports around the world as they experience drone intrusions, resulting in flight diversions or cancellations and causing disruptions that last anywhere from minutes to hours. These incidents even happened at airports that had some form of drone detection system in place. SO, WHAT HAPPENED?

The many drone incidents highlight the need for effective countermeasures to prevent and respond to drone intrusions at airports. And while we brace ourselves for FAA and TSA to conclude their testing, and issue findings and recommendations for what those effective measures should be, airport operators find themselves at a challenging crossroads where they must make the best decision for their airport.

From a best practices perspective, the core issue is identifying the most suitable counter-drone detection and/or mitigation technology for airports. To make informed decisions, responsible decision-makers must assess the advantages and disadvantages of each detection and mitigation technology while carefully selecting a system to protect their community.

But first, what are you really looking for?

An increasingly wide range of C-UAS technologies are available today, making it challenging to effectively evaluate and compare them. Different technologies vary in their suitability for various use cases, environments, and scenarios.

An airport environment is a unique, sensitive, and demanding environment. I can confidently state that the ‘only’ thing in common across airports around the world is that they have aircraft landing and taking off at their facility. The rest differs by so many variables, such as governance, national, state and local regulations, terrain – you name it – each airport is just an embodiment of its own unique situation.

So, with that in mind, let’s approach this crossroads carefully by highlighting key aspects airports should consider when evaluating various C-UAS technologies.

1. Future Readiness

Both well-established legacy methods, as well as newer innovations and techniques, warrant deep investigation to provide thorough decision support for C-UAS system acquisition processes. Recent technologies have emerged with vastly different approaches and capabilities that should be considered. The most notable, for example, is RF Cyber Detection and Mitigation.

Regulations progress, and C-UAS technology constantly transforms. The need to ensure that the technology you invest in is future ready and can accommodate your ever evolving operational needs is key in the airport world. At the same time, this technology should be adaptable, in parallel with the aviation industry, to regulatory trends applicable to complex airport operations.

2. Global footprint and alignment with regulatory and policy developments.

Choose a company with a global footprint and proven installed base of deployments and applications – ask for references!

An opinion piece by Mark Montgomery that came out this week reviewed the threat that cheap, commercial drones pose to the safety of our nation’s infrastructure. This observation could potentially also apply to various drone detection systems and services that are widely used in the US today.

So, “How did we get there?” Montgomery points out that by relying on cheap and commercially available products, we also wind-up confronting threats to our safety.

Drone “wars” and counter drone activity fascinated the world as we watched the war between Russia and Ukraine unfold. We now know that threats often eventually migrate from the battlefield to the homeland.

To always stay one step ahead, airport operators should bear all the everchanging regulations in mind as this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which encompassed the American Security Drone Act (ASDA), prohibits the purchase and use of certain drones by Federal agencies. Airports and non-Federal entities should be standing by for potential expansions of policy to limit or eventually restrict the usage of other products, especially in a sensitive environment such as an airport.

3. See it to believe it – Marketing is great but verify!

The U.S. aviation industry depends on smooth, uninterrupted aircraft operations. Sensitive environments require high performance, safe and predictive anti-drone defense. Traditional C-UAS solutions were NOT designed for civilian airports. Some airports pay huge sums for systems that may not perform in such a sensitive environment, exposing themselves to a major threat.

Challenge the vendors to ensure you see a live demonstration that is relevant and applicable to your airport operation!

Of course, from my point of view, I urge clients to be future ready and one step ahead with RF-cyber takeover, such as that employed by D-Fend Solutions’ EnforceAir, which uses non-jamming and non-kinetic methods to keep airspace safe, without any disruption to the regular operation of the airport, its radio communications and navigation systems, while enabling airports to detect, and, as regulations allow mitigate rogue drone threats safely and efficiently, preserving operational continuity.

Do you want to see it to believe it? Contact us for a live demonstration.

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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