To provide a succinct answer, no, not all airport radar systems can detect drones at the level we need them to. Let's explore why.
The presence of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the world of aviation has grown exponentially. Drones are more accessible than ever, even long-range drones have starting prices as little as $200.
But with drones being so attainable, there's concern about there potential to interfere with secure locations. Think military bases, powerplants, sensitive government-run locations, private land, and importantly, airports.
Airports and the Drone Threat
The world's biggest airports see millions of people travel through every day and manage thousands of flights. But they share the same safety concerns as even the smallest airports. That's why airport operations and airspace safety are highly regulated, for good reasons.
How can airborne objects impact airports?
- Delays to flights and future flight scheduling
- Serious risk of causing accidents
- Surveillance of secure, sensitive areas of the airport
- Impact of public trust of airport safety, if drone sightings occur
- Reputational loses and potential liability claims from airlines
This list will only get longer as drone technology becomes more sophisticated, so it's easy to understand why detecting, identifying, and tracking UAS' is a vital and time-sensitive issue.
Can Airport Radars See Drones?
Drones do appear on some radars. But although they might appear, most traditional radar can't detect that the object is a drone. Here's why:
- The drone is too small to detect
- It's indistinguishable from other objects, like birds
- It can't track multiple objects
- The radar doesn't have the range
For these reasons, airport radar can't detect drones to the level that we need it to in order to maintain airspace security at airports.
Additionally, radar has limitations like range and depth of field, which in some cases drone technology manages to bypass. And if radar is programmed to exclude 'radar clutter', meaning birds or objects close to the ground, detecting a drone becomes even more complex. Distinguishing between drones and other small, fast-moving objects is crucial as it prevents false alarms or costly shut downs. But the truth is not all radar can do this.
Drone Detection for Airports
So what can be done to detect drones at airports? The answer is drone detection technology that's specifically developed to identify these issues.
Detecting Drones with Radar
Drone detection radar is simple, intuitive, and easy to use. It works in tandem with software that comes as a browser-based interface with easy to understand colour-coded tracks and 3D visualisation. This makes it easier to adopt at your airport, and you'll get up and running faster while spending less time having to train teams to use complex or extensive technology.
It also provides 360-degree coverage of an area and can be deployed to run 24/7, ensuring your airport is secure from any direction and at any time. Better yet, this is all managed automatically - so when a threat appears, your team are notified exactly when they need to be - giving them more time to respond effectively. With all this, your airport is better protected from unauthorised drones in your airspace.
Distinguishing Between Objects
But what about distinguishing between objects, like drones and birds?
Advanced drone detection radar employs micro-doppler classification technology to identify drones by their propellers. For example, it quickly distinguishes between drones and other airborne threats, like birds. This is one way sophisticated radar can help your operators understand what an object is in real-time.
In a worst-case scenario, drones could be a malicious threat, compared to simple birds that have no knowingly ill intent. To maintain airport security, it's crucial to classify an object. And fast.
Other Equipment for Drone Detection
Radar isn't the only solution. Although it's the best and most effective place to start, there's also other technology available to counter the drone threat. This is the likes of sophisticated drone takeover systems, high-power microwave devices, and even basic nets and guns. However, many of these technologies are highly restricted or outright banned at airports, determined by country.
Depending on your airport's specific needs, it's likely that a combination of counter-drone systems can provide extra reinforcement alongside your radar solution if it's needed. But specifically-built drone detection radar provides the most robust level of detection and is supported by experts in the drone detection field - making it the obvious choice to improve airport security.