In a recent article on Airspace Security Magazine, I discussed why unauthorized drones and airports do not mix. Countless stories have appeared in the news over the years regarding drone activity in federal airspace, citing safety concerns for passenger aircraft and disruption of airport operations. The cost of a drone-based shutdown can be significant, as evidenced by the Gatwick Airport shutdown which, during the 33 hours of suspended airport operations, cost airlines nearly $64.5 million in losses. As a consequence, airports around the world are rapidly integrating counter-drone technology into their security infrastructure and expanding their drone-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure they are not the next airport making headlines.
Installing smart airspace security systems is only the first step to prevent shutdowns. Airport security leaders must then apply insights and intelligence from the airspace security solution to gain the most value from their system and create effective SOPs. These guidelines inform security personnel on how to respond before, during and after a drone incursion.
Airport Airspace Security SOPs in Action
Dedrone recommends that our aviation clients begin their Airspace Security journey with the installation of Dedrone’s risk assessment solution to create a data-based baseline of airspace activity, and from there, create their own SOPs based on their specific threat profile.
After collecting baseline intelligence and insights on drone activity at an airport, security managers can take a three-tiered approach to develop appropriate response protocols based on the threat level detected.
Step 1: Define Threat Tiers
Many airports must first define what sort of drone incursion would require a response, and how to categorize the level of threat. For example:
- Low Threat: Drone is detected well outside the outer airport perimeter
- Medium Threat: Drone is located near airport perimeter or near takeoff/approach paths
- High Threat: Drone is persistent, causing an immediate and substantial risk to airport operations, is weaponized, or a drone swarm (two or more drones simultaneously) are detected
Step 2: Allocate Appropriate Resources
Security managers should test and develop drone response protocols and build a UAS Response Team during “blue sky” conditions – before any drone appears in the airspace.
UAS Response Team Protocols
- Connect with local law enforcement and federal agencies (Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Union Aviation Safety, UK Civil Aviation Authority, etc.) to determine any cross-coordination required to respond to a drone threat
- Launch local “No Drone Zone” awareness campaigns and deploy signage at parks and other public locations nearby
Step 3: Incident Preparedness in Accordance with Threat:
Define, rehearse, test, deploy resources – learn how much time it takes to respond in an emergency – and continue to develop UAS response protocols. Incident response should correspond to the threat level. For example:
- Low Threat: Notify proper personnel (SOC, Security, TSA, FAA) and document details (timestamp, description of UAS, location, altitude, direction of travel, any evasive action by drone)
- Medium Threat: Execute protocols consistent with threat AND coordinate with ATC Tower regarding possible deviations of flight operations, notify Operations Manager, Public Relations, and activate Mass Notification (ie. AtHoc Warning System (AWS) and Everbridge). If within airport jurisdiction, deploy security personnel to locate the pilot. If not, coordinate with the jurisdiction and consider arrest.
- If UAS is found on the ground without a pilot, develop protocols for information gathering and documentation (SD Card, Serial Number, etc.).
- High Threat: Follow all protocols associated with Low and Medium Threats AND exhaust all resources to identify and detain UAS pilots. Establish Unified Command with Local/Federal resources and ATC Tower to alter flights or air traffic movements. Consider runway closures. Inform airport stakeholders. Employ your own drones once airport operations have halted to expedite the search for UAS pilots.
Step 4: Prepare for future drone threats through risk mitigation
Reporting is essential for predicting, preparing, and preventing as well as documenting post-event after-action reports (AARs) for partnering with local or federal agencies. Airspace security intelligence and insights will provide drone “hotspots,” or likely areas where drone pilots deploy their flight, their takeoff location, and landing location. Drone detection equipment assists in creating predictive analytics and streamlines efforts to locate drones and pilots.
Complete Airspace Security at Airports Starts with Dedrone
Dedrone provides airspace security at over 20 airports in eight countries around the globe, including Newcastle International Airport and Perth, Scotland Airport, to protect passengers, airlines, and airport employees against drone threats.
Regardless of drone flight regulations, or a drone pilot’s adherence to them, Dedrone provides airport security leaders with the assurance that they are seeing all airspace activity and protecting operations from malicious and unauthorized drone threats.
Jackson Markey is the Aviation Industry Expert for Dedrone and can be reached at email@example.com