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Counter-Drone System Testing to Begin

The Federal Aviation Administration will begin testing and evaluating drone security systems for safe use at airports in the United States.

Though counter-UAS systems have found success in military environments, their use in civilian settings is much more complicated — both in terms of accurate, legal detection of drones as well as mitigating threats without disturbing nearby devices and communications.  Distinguishing between authorized and unauthorized drones is also a challenge that the FAA hopes remote identification, with final rulemaking slated for this December, will help address.

In the coming weeks, the FAA will release a request for information for system vendors to participate in tests at five airports, beginning with Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey, site of the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center.

The FAA plans to release an advisory circular detailing safe drone detection and mitigation methods once the tests are conducted, according to John Dermody, director of the agency’s Office of Airport Safety and Standards.  That document will establish standards and guidance for safe use of counter-UAS systems by airports and enable the use of federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for purchasing of these systems when justified.

“There needs to be an FAA standard before [that purchase] would be AIP-eligible,” Dermody said. “But there’s a few other requirements too.  One of them is that the legal airport sponsor would actually need to purchase the system outright.  It cannot be a lease arrangement … the airport is responsible for the operation, updates and maintenance to the system.  Another requirement is the system needs to be installed on airport property or land that the airport has an easement on.”

Demand from airports to install such systems is high, but FAA officials cautioned that even once standards are developed, airports are unlikely to have the legal standing to use systems such as radiofrequency-based detection and mitigation capabilities.  And such systems can’t simply be pre-purchased and positioned and placed for federal officials to use if necessary.

“The U.S. government would have to determine from our own legal and policy perspective, including any resource constraints we have, who would actually operate the equipment,” Dermody said. “So, there would need to be discussions before an airport operator would think of buying and installing it on who would not only be permitted to use it, but who would actually be able to use it, and have it a commitment in place.”