AI-enabled RF technology from German vendor Aaronia can detect multiple drones simultaneously within 50km, locating them and their operators in real-time and preventing the kind of devastating shut down suffered by Gatwick Airport in December 2018.

A collision between a commercial aircraft and a flying drone – whether it’s being operated by a hobbyist, terrorist or agriculturalist — can have devastating consequences.

Drones and airport security

Just before Christmas 2018, over 1,000 flights were cancelled at Gatwick Airport near London following reports of drone sightings close to the runway. Police made arrests, the armed forces were called in, and authorities shut down the airport for three days – affecting more than 140,000 passengers.

To the frustration of the airline industry, local residents, passengers and politicians, the investigation over what happened was inconclusive.

Airport authorities still operate without any way of knowing when someone with no ill intention is flying their drone within its airspace — let alone those who may be up to no good. Clearly, there is an urgent need for a drone detection system that works.

The world’s first commercial drone detection system was installed at Muscat International Airport in Oman using technology from the Strickscheid, Germany-based electronics firm Aaronia AG. A specialist in wireless radio equipment including spectrum analysers, Aaronia’s AARTOS drone detection system detects radio frequency (RF) to protect the surrounding areas of the airport including the landing and take-off runways.

With the help of artificial intelligence, Aaronia’s system can detect multiple drones and other devices simultaneously at various frequencies within a range of up to 50km, and is equipped with sophisticated long-range cameras for additional verification.

Unlike some technologies, including radar, it doesn’t interfere with other systems and signals because it emits no signals itself, making it very suitable for the airport environment. In addition to the drones, the system also locates the operator of the drone. The detection system and software, including 3-D mapping, camera control and real-time air traffic display, brings airport security to a new level, preventing the sort of borderline-hysterical situation that played out at Gatwick last year.

After successful testing earlier in the year, Oman Airports finalised its agreement with Aaronia and local integrator R&N Khimji in July 2019 to install the system at Muscat International Airport, claiming a world first.

Various government agencies including police and military forces already use Aaronia’s AARTOS DDS systems for the protection of high-profile personnel, national infrastructure, or strategically important sites like power plants, correctional facilities, borders, and political events (like the 2018 NATO summit).

While the system has already been deployed in military airports and airbases, Muscat International is the first permanent deployment for regulating drone traffic around a major commercial airport.

Drones are proving increasingly helpful in security surveillance, emergency situations and as a communication tool in areas with no cell phone signal. They’ve also been deployed successfully in IoT solutions in agriculture and environmental monitoring. Beyond those commercial use cases, drones are a consumer product, putting them into the hands of unlicensed hobbyists and, potentially, those with ill-intent.

With a detection system that allows authorities to regulate drones around airports and other public air spaces, governments can make sure they’re used safely and by trusted operators.

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