Saturday, January 5, 2019

Counterdrone Technologies Face Slow Ramp-Up at Airports Globally: Companies that track and deter unauthorized drone flights typically focus instead on non-aviation customers



The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor and Robert Wall
Updated January 2, 2019 7:05 a.m. ET

Despite world-wide concerns about unmanned aircraft buzzing around airports, suppliers of commercial drone-detection equipment generally have been looking elsewhere for sales.

With aviation authorities in the U.S., U.K. and other countries urging a go-slow approach to deploying such systems until regulations are in place, industry officials say military facilities, correctional institutions and stadiums currently are the primary customers for civilian technologies to track and deter unauthorized drones.

Air-safety regulators are worried that counterdrone systems designed to jam radio communications also could interfere with legitimate airport equipment and operations.

In the U.S., according to industry officials, the Federal Communications Commission’s reluctance to authorize sales of hardware able to disrupt radio links has hobbled growth of the nascent counterdrone industry. Only a handful of U.S. airports have advanced drone-detection programs under way, according to industry officials, and nearly all are in the testing phase.

Congress, however, has instructed the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a strategy to permit wide use of counterdrone technologies across airports.

Sponsors of major sports events, some concerts and large open-air gatherings, including the New Year’s Eve celebration in New York’s Times Square, have called on counterdrone techniques to ensure safety. But like most airports, such entities generally refrain from publicly spelling out their plans.

Christopher Williams, chief executive of antidrone equipment maker Citadel Defense Co., said the company was founded in 2016 to focus on protecting sites such as airports and sports venues from commercial drone incursions. The goal is to identify signals that connect the drone to its operator and disrupt only those links, allowing other communications between security personnel or Wi-Fi networks to continue normally.

But the Southern California company soon switched gears to focus on sales to the Defense Department while it waited for commercial prospects to develop. “Unfortunately, innovation outpaced regulation,” Mr. Williams said, and “it has put the market in a stalemate.”

To identify and deter drone intruders, companies are relying on a combination of mobile radars, video systems and acoustic devices, according to Pablo Estrada, vice president of marketing for San Francisco-based Dedrone Inc. He said Dedrone is working on both sides of the Atlantic to provide hardware and software solutions to anticipate flight patterns, with the Pentagon and correctional facilities among customers most interested in the results.

Other industry officials agree that for the short term, the strongest demand for antidrone systems is likely to come from military and governmental entities seeking to protect non-aviation sites. Soldiers already have faced lethal drone threats on the battlefield, with Islamic State fighters repeatedly using armed drones to carry out attacks, including targeting Russian military facilities in Syria.

But recent malicious drone activity around London’s Gatwick Airport, which forced cancellation of some 1,000 flights affecting around 140,000 passengers, could help change the marketplace. The U.K. Department for Transport has said the British government in 2019 may call for more police powers and possibly release guidelines to test and use counterdrone equipment.

Law-enforcement officials have said nearly 100 credible witnesses described the unauthorized flights at Gatwick, but at this point nobody has been charged for the mayhem during the pre-Christmas rush.

Following the shutdowns of Gatwick’s single runway, British officials said they took steps to make drone-detection equipment ready for deployment across the country. The proliferation of drones combined with the challenges of installing systems to combat them “means there are no easy solutions,” said Security Minister Ben Wallace.

Airports Council International, a global trade and lobbying group, this year called for clear guidance from governments about what kind of counterdrone technologies airports could install.

In the wake of the Gatwick events, there is a threat of copycats targeting other airports, according to industry officials. “Hooligans around the world have realized that you can fly a drone or several drones into an airport and create a massive disruption, and you probably will not be caught,” said Oleg Vornik, chief executive of DroneShield Ltd. , a counterdrone-equipment provider with offices in Virginia and Sydney.

Stemming from its work in the U.K., Dedrone last week released a report highlighting the extent of hazards at four unidentified British airports, particularly from hobbyists flying drones during weekends. Data released by the drone-services provider shows its detection equipment captured a total of more than 280 unauthorized flights over a nearly six-month span. More than half the flights occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Gatwick wasn’t part of the study, which included less busy fields.

Since drone pilots seemingly fly around airports “around the same time and days,” Dedrone said, “airports can strategically prepare for increased incursions during those periods.”

Mr. Estrada said the company is conducting similar detection studies for government customers in the U.S., though he declined to elaborate.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com

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