Pilots have reported a surge in the number of close calls between drones and aircraft, with the number of recorded incidents nearly tripling since 2014. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced that it is expanding efforts to detect and identify unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flying too close to airports.
The FAA signed Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRDAs) with Gryphon Sensors, Liteye Systems Inc. and Sensofusion to evaluate procedures and technologies designed to identify unauthorized UAS operations in and around airports.
This effort is part of the FAA’s Pathfinder Initiative, a partnership with private industry to research and test solutions to support the safe integration of UAS into national airspace.
“Gryphon Sensors, LLC is excited to collaborate with the FAA on utilizing technologies that detect, track and identify errant or hostile UAS in and around our nation’s airports and sensitive areas. Detecting these threats is challenging because most of them are very small, fly low to the ground and can be pre-programed to fly autonomously,” said Gryphon Sensors President Tony Albanese.
“Our AUDS team is very excited to join the FAA’s efforts to counter rogue UAVs,” stated Thomas Scott, President of Liteye Systems. “As the legitimate use of unmanned vehicles becomes more prevalent in many industries, unfortunately this large number of aircraft also makes them readily available for illicit use. With the right technologies we can assist the UAV operator to conduct his mission, while protecting against those who wish us harm.”
Sensofusion, Inc. CEO Tuomas Rasila said, “We first developed the technology to detect, locate, track, and gain control over UAS three years ago as a military project and operated it with three European armies under NATO. Fast forward to the present time, and AIRFENCE is now protecting various customer sites in Europe, including prisons, high profile government buildings, police, and military sites. Since the technology is software based, it improves with over-the-air updates, ensuring that we are always ahead of the commercial UAS market.”
The companies’ sensor detection systems will be evaluated by airports selected by the FAA. The agency will work with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal partners to assess how effective the respective technologies are and whether they interfere with safety or normal airport operations.
In February, the FAA partnered with DHS and CACI International on similar research to explore how the company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports.
With the commercial drone market boom, the FAA has found it increasingly difficult to safely integrate drones into US skies. The agency has seen a steep increase in reports of small UAS close to airports over the last two years, challenging the FAA to explore new ways to safely regulate drones while not preventing the commercial UAS industry from taking off.
Homeland Security Today previously reported that one of the most significant challenges to integration of UAS into national airspace is the potential that one could hit objects, such as a passenger plane.
Just last month, the pilot of a British Airways plane reported that a drone struck the aircraft as it was landing at London’s Heathrow International Airport. Although it is unclear if the object was indeed a drone, many confirmed instances of close calls between drones and aircraft have been reported over the past two years.
“Sometimes people fly drones in an unsafe manner,” said Marke “Hoot” Gibson, FAA Senior Advisor on UAS Integration. “Government and industry share responsibility for keeping the skies safe, and we’re pleased these three companies have taken on this important challenge.”