Counter drone systems have become essential for the safety and security of operations at airports. Drones may represent one of the greatest opportunities and challenges in aviation today. Drones have already attracted millions of new aviators through aerial photography, drone racing and other recreational activities, while countless commercial remote pilots are finding new applications for these aircraft on a regular basis. However, with this new technology in aviation comes the need to protect critical infrastructure from its misuse. Airports need to be ready to respond to the presence of unauthorized drones that might negatively impact safety, efficiency, or capacity at the airport.
In the hands of an irresponsible remote pilot or a nefarious actor, drones could provide an ideal platform for illegal surveillance or dropping explosives or other dangerous payloads. Drones also pose a serious collision risk with a manned aircraft. Either way, the safety and security concerns regarding unauthorized drones need to be addressed.
This Counter Drone Knowledge Centre collects all recent publicly available guidance material, regulations, white papers and policies on the topic of drone risk mitigation from around the world and is intended to provide airports and the public with a global “one stop shop” reference.
Unmanned aircraft systems vs. Remotely piloted aircraft vs. Drones
Source: ICAO Document 8973
This Knowledge Centre uses the terms “drones” and “UAS” interchangeably.
Multiple terms are used for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and their components. UAS are comprised of an unmanned aircraft (UA), a control or remote pilot station (RPS), a data link (C2 Link) between the UA and its control station/RPS for managing the flight, and possibly other components such as launch and recovery equipment.
Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) are a subset of UA that may be fully certificated in accordance with aviation standards. Another type of UA is unmanned free balloons. Some States may, under their existing legislation, also include model aircraft within the category of small UA. Most UA operate as part of a system (UAS).
The figure on the left illustrates the different types of unmanned aircraft.
Lawful Drone Operations
Despite the urgency of addressing drone risk around airports, it is important to stress the many benefits of their legitimate use within the air transport system. Drones are increasingly used for various airport activities such as runway inspection, aerial photography and building inspection. As the use of unmanned systems increases, best practice on legitimate operation and integration within the airspace is available at the following links.
ACI World – Airports Council International has provided information on drones around airports.
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Unmanned Aviation Systems – ICAO has provided guidance for States and industry on the implementation of unmanned aviation systems into civil aviation. This site provides links to the numerous activities, panels and events related to UAS.
SESAR – CORUS Concept of Operations (2020) - The European Commission (EC), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU), and EUROCONTROL developed this Concept of Operations for U-Space (CORUS) document on rules and standards to make the safe execution of UAS operations easier and more understandable for both commercial and recreational pilots in Europe.
Global/Regional and National Frameworks
In this section are references to the different regulatory frameworks on drones within States.
Global Drone Regulations Database - This database is comprised of a country directory with summaries and/or links to national drone laws. The objective is to provide humanitarian and non-humanitarian actors with a database of relevant national regulations, additional resources, and links to original regulatory documents to ensure that drones are deployed safely and in compliance with national regulations.
UAV Coach - Master List of Drone Laws (Organized by State & Country) - Drone training company in the United States providing list of drone laws within United States and worldwide. Secondary database for global drone regulations.
ICAO Model UAS Regulations – The Member States of ICAO asked the Secretariat to develop a model regulatory framework for UAS operating outside of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Looking at existing regulations, ICAO identified best practices and commonalities to develop this model along with advisory circulars.
Brazil: National Civil Aviation Agency – Rules in Brazil for the operation of civilian drones
Canada: Transport Canada – Canada has focused on public education on how to fly drones safely along with providing references to current regulations and frameworks.
China: Registering Drones – English instructions on how to register drones in China
Europe: EASA – EASA has developed regulations and set the framework for safe operation of drones for EU and EASA Member States. The page provides guidance for different categories of drones as well.
Europe: National Aviation Authorities – Website states drone website references by country, as supplied by the respective National Aviation Authority (NAA) in the European Union. The overview ensures a quick access to information on drones and details for the registration process.
India: FICCI – Countering Rogue Drones – India has developed a report on UAS and the need for counter UAS technologies and regulations.
India: Directorate General of Civil Aviation – Rules and regulations from India on the use of commercial drones
Japan: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism – Rules and regulations from Japan on the use of commercial drones.
New Zealand: Civil Aviation Authority – Rules and regulations from New Zealand on the use of commercial drones.
Singapore: Civil Aviation Authority – Rules and regulations from Singapore on the use of commercial drones.
USA: Blue Ribbon Task Force – Formed in 2019 by The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and ACI North America, this cross-section task force of stakeholders provided recommendations to address the critical issue of incursions by unauthorized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at airports in the United States and how best to mitigate this threat.
USA – FAA UAS Page – The USA Federal Aviation Administration page on UAS, including regulations and other resources.
Airport Preparedness and Response
Airports’ focus during a drone interference should be to protect lives and ensure the continuity of operations. Operators should have detailed plans in place not only in preparation for a potential disruption but to be able to ensure operations can be recovered in a safe and expeditious manner.
NEW: ICAO and Industry - Response to Unauthorized UA in the Vicinity of Aerodromes Guidance Material – A collaborative effort with various States and industry groups to provide guidance to affected stakeholders potentially impacted by an unauthorized unmanned aircraft events in close vicinity of aircraft and aerodromes.
United Kingdom CAA – Drone Safety Risk – An Assessment (PDF), 2018 – The UK CAA published an assessment of available information about the likelihood of an unintentional drone collision and the severity of any possible impact between an aircraft and smaller unmanned vehicles.
EASA – Drone Incident Management at Aerodromes – EASA has developed a manual highlighting the need for aerodromes to develop appropriate arrangements and procedures to support effective incident-responses.
ACI World – Drones Policy Paper (PDF), 2018 – ACI Policy paper focused on drones in the airport environment and responses to unauthorized drones.
ACI Europe – Drones in the Airport Environment (PDF), 2020 – ACI Europe developed a Concept of Operations document with the aim of facilitating drone operations at airports, whilst ensuring the necessary safety and security levels.
Drone Prevention Measures
Industry partners, in collaboration with regulatory authorities want to ensure that prevention measures that are put in place to prevent unauthorized drones do not impede future uses of drones on airports in a lawful manner. The most common prevention measures in place are drone fly/no fly zones applicable to drone operations. These zones typically relate to drone operations below 120m (400ft) above ground level (AGL) and within 5 km of a protected aerodrome that potentially affect operations over the movement area, runway, or approach/departure path of that aerodrome. The Drone Fly Zone (DFZ) concept improves the information available to drone operators when planning to operate in areas where a specific clearance is required.
Canada – Drone Site Selection Tool – An interactive map developed by the National Research Council of Canada highlighting the various no fly zones/restrictions in Canada.
DJI Fly Safe Geo Zone Map – Drone manufacturer DJI maintains a global database on where it is safe to fly, where flight may raise concerns, and where flight is restricted with their specific drones.
No Fly Zones – Drones, Global – An open-source database and global map using the ICAO GIS system on the different no fly zones around the globe (Sign-in required but free to use).
No Fly Zones – UK – Independent repository of no-fly zones in the United Kingdom.
Singapore – Permitted Flying and No Fly Zones – An interactive map to highlight the areas drones are permitted or not.
UK: CAA – RPAS and Drones – Information about all aspects of remotely piloted aviation and drones from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
UK: NATS – Drones – Enabling Safe Integration into our skies – Information on drones being integrated into the UK airspace.
USA: B4UFLY App – Developed by the Federal Aviation Administration, this free app for Apple or Android devices indicates in real time for all drone users what levels of operation and zones are permitted to fly.
To promote maximum visibility to the dangers of operating drones around airports, different agencies provide awareness to the general public regarding the use of drones responsibly.
Counter Drone Technology Solutions
In 2019, the United States Department of Homeland Security created a Counter-UAS Technology Guide to educate first responders on counter-UAS (C-UAS) technology. In order to explain how C-UAS technologies operate, this guide provides an overview of small unmanned aircraft system technologies, including key components enabling their operation. To support this guide, the various technologies have been expanded below for easier reference.
Please note that each country has different regulatory frameworks when it comes to counter drone technologies. These different solutions are to provide guidance to what is available, however some of these solutions may not be legally permissible to use. Please refer to your national regulations for further information on the use of counter drone technology solutions.
Technology, on both the UAS and C-UAS fronts, is evolving rapidly. With this evolution, numerous DTI and C-UAS technology for airport-like environments are still under development but solutions are becoming available. These provide a variety of options for detection, identification, and/or mitigation. Such comprehensive layered options often combine radar, RF, audio, acoustic, cameras, and artificial intelligence (AI) for detection that could be paired with different mitigation options such as electronic interference or kinetic interdictions. For detection, the technology providers have focused on the following technologies that are considered applicable around airports:
Radar technology play an important role as a primary means of detecting UAS-based threats. Radar can detect UAS vehicles of any size by its specific radar signature. Radar can search, detect, and track multiple objects simultaneously. However, it must quickly scan large areas with high sensitivity, and be able to eliminate false hits through different algorithms. Challenges to the use of radar include lack of automation, dependence on trained operators, high system costs, and varying accuracies on detection. A key part of identifying unauthorized drones is the need to find the pilot and the radar is not able to geolocate the pilot of the UAS.
Radio Frequency (RF)
A more common UAS identification tool is the use of radio frequency or RF. The use of RF scanners provides a cost-effective solution for detecting, tracking, and identifying UAS over an average detection range of 1–3 km. This detection uses algorithms to scan known frequencies to find and geolocate RF-emitting devices with an approximate location of a UAS vehicle and its operator. This is effective if the UAS is transmitting a signal. However, RF detection sensors can only detect a few airborne subjects at a time and the accuracy could be compromised with obstacles affecting line of sight. Despite that, the use of RF has a high probability of detection with a low false alarm rate.
A less used detection method, optical sensors can use infrared or thermal imaging as well as a standard daylight camera to detect unauthorized UAS. The electro-optical sensors use a visual signature to detect UAS, while infrared sensors use a heat signature. The optical sensors provide visuals on the UAS vehicle and its potential payload and can record images as forensic evidence. The challenge with optical systems is that by themselves, they can be difficult for detection because it can be challenged by redirection to false targets and is limited by weather. For increased efficiencies, the use of optics/infrared could be paired with radio frequency or radar solutions for UAS detection.
Another tool that could be paired with other detection systems is the use of acoustics that detect sounds produced by UAS motors. These would need strong algorithms to determine the type of UAS and be able to differentiate between authorized and unauthorized UAS. With that, performance could be impacted by wind and other background noises. The cost of this technology is low to medium with a medium probability of detection with higher false alarm rates. Another concern is the lack of geolocating the operator unlike other detection methods mentioned above.
Countermeasures and response solutions are meant to interfere with or intercept drones in order to mitigate their risk to the airport environment. These solutions may not be allowed in some States so operators are encouraged to contact their regulatory authorities. Countermeasures can be grouped into two groups: electronic and kinetic. Electronic mechanisms require the use of RF communications or GPS to be effective while kinetics use physical means to mitigate unauthorized drones.
The most common tool being used for mitigating drones is the use of electronic jammers. This is the intentional use of blocking signals between the UAS operator and the drone. These types of jammers can disrupt both RF and GNSS links, and once those links are jammed, the UAS is forced to land immediately or return to home location. Concerns do rise in that when a signal is jammed, there is a high probability of the drone crashing, or it could unintentionally interfere with other airport systems within the vicinity of the unauthorized UAS.
Manipulation of a UAS refers to a third party taking over a UAS remotely by impersonating its remote control. Manipulation employs algorithms, often enhanced with artificial intelligence, to take control of the UAS with a new, “smarter” communications link that removes the UAS from the threat environment. The manipulating signal gives a third party an opportunity to neutralize the UAS by taking over the flight and downloading its data. This technology requires extensive maintenance of libraries of the communications employed by evolving products on the marketplace, which varies by manufacturer and model.
Kinetic mitigations refer to intercepting unauthorized UAS by physical means. The examples that are currently used or being tested are as follows:
- Live Fire: The use of conventional weapons, typically firearms, to target and shoot down UAS.
- Nets: UAS with attack nets capture and bring back targeted UAS.
- Use of autonomous kinetic interception methods with the option of a manned launch with monitoring.
- Lasers: Directed energy to destroy the UAS, causing it to crash to the ground.
- Birds of Prey: Trained birds with protective gear used to attack and crash UAS located in a restricted area.
Geofencing has mitigating qualities built into the UAS itself. This technology can be updated by manufacturers to include new and temporary restricted zones, evolving with risk-based data and information. Some manufacturers have gone so far as to expand the airport area restricted zones from two-dimensional circles to an enhanced safety zone. Manufacturers are helping to restrict access to sensitive flight locations, including airports, except for those authorized for approved UAS missions. Geofencing could also act in ensuring “careless and clueless” UAS operators are not able to interfere with airport operations.
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