Protecting airport passengers, employees, and airline personnel is the most important mission airport executives have. And something airport executives need to prepare for is the marked increase in drone traffic near their airports.

However, two major challenges complicate their jobs.

First, there are more drones in the air than ever before. As of 2019, there were 1.3 million registered drones in the US and hundreds of thousands of additional drones that were not registered, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which predicts there will be 2.4 million drones registered by 2022.

Second, current federal laws don’t allow airports to remove drones that fly near airports, even if the drones are interfering with air traffic.

However, airports aren’t powerless. They have effective and legal options they can leverage today to address the growing number of drones in the skies above and around their airports, and these response options begin with knowledge.

Today’s drone detection technologies can provide airports with detailed information and powerful analysis about the drones flying into and around their airports. Detection technology gives airports the power to know where the drone is, where the drone operator is, their past flight behaviors and their likely future flight paths. The same technologies can help local and federal authorities sort the clueless hobbyist from the repeat rogue offenders.

And while federal rules currently prohibit directly removing drones from the sky, done right, drone detection itself is allowable under existing federal law and is a powerful response and prevention tool.

What’s important to realize is that knowledge of the threat is the first critical step toward protecting airports.

Know Every Drone: How drone detection gives airports the power to respond

Many airports around the United States (and the world) using drone detection technology are currently able to take immediate steps to reduce or eliminate threats posed by drones flying near their airports.

For example, airports can:

  • immediately notify airport security personnel, law enforcement liaisons, and air traffic control when a drone is detected
  • verify when a drone is no longer in the area or the threat is eliminated, allowing the airport to safely resume normal flight operations, and eliminating unnecessary delays and costs
  • give local and federal law enforcement evidence to prosecute offenders, including information such as the drone serial number and location of the drone’s pilot

However, the benefits are not limited to reacting to a drone threat.

Drone detection gives airports the power of prevention

The most sophisticated drone detection technologies provide analysis about the recurring patterns of drone traffic around airports. Many airports use this analysis to prevent future drone incursions.

For example, airports can:

  • identify the most frequent launch sites for drones — such as local parks, parking garages and open spaces — and coordinate with local authorities to post signs clarifying that those locations are within “no drone zones
  • provide local authorities with detailed information about the scope of potentially dangerous local drone activity and then work with them to educate the public about the potential risks via the local media and social media
  • provide local and federal authorities with more knowledge of local drone activity which can help inform future local, state, and national laws and funding
  • prepare and plan ahead for the most likely offenders and flight paths using analysis provided by drone detection equipment

Drones are an exciting and evolving technology, with benefits that we still have not fully imagined. Operated responsibly, drones can do a tremendous amount of good for first responders, emergency response, critical infrastructure and a variety of businesses. However, airport executives also know first-hand that the increasing sophistication and popularity of drones poses a potential threat to their passengers, personnel and property. Guarding against that potential threat will be increasingly important as the drone revolution continues.

Fortunately, drone detection technology exists now that gives airports powerful tools to protect their airspace and makes living in fear of drones optional.