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Trial of drone surveillance system

A successful trial of a ground-breaking drone surveillance system took place at ERA member London Southend Airport during the week commencing 7 May 2018. The system, conducted by IPS (Integrated Paramount Services) in collaboration with METIS, was presented and discussed at a recent meeting of the ERA Air Safety Group.

The purpose of the week-long trial was to demonstrate and test the ability of the IPS-METIS SKYPERION Solution to monitor, detect, track and record the activity of drones in the vicinity of London Southend Airport. A series of ‘tame’ drones were deployed near the airport in order to test how the equipment worked in an ‘as live’ situation. The equipment involves two airfield sensors which offer 360-degree coverage up to 4km, in all weathers, 24 hours a day, feeding back real-time information to a control station located with the Air Traffic Control team.

This system not only spots drones much sooner than previously possible and allows them to be tracked, but it also identifies exactly where the operator is located (offering the possibility of them being apprehended), something which has previously been almost impossible.

Rogue drone operations are becoming an increasing issue for UK airports with upwards of 3 to 4 sightings of ‘rogue’ drones per week in the London airspace area alone. Drones are readily available from high street shops and can be flown within a few minutes of purchasing, and although they have many lawful uses they can also be easily adapted to carry a range of payloads, from cameras to explosives. Due to the size and colour of most drones they are very difficult to spot, however if one is sighted near the critical part of an airport operation (such as the final approach to the runway) then the only option is to completely stop operations. This most notably happened at Gatwick in July 2017, which led to delays for thousands of passengers and considerable costs to the airport.

Looking ahead, IPS are now in the process of examining all the data from the seven days of the trial. This will form the basis of a draft report that will compare the surveillance findings with the actual known drone test flights, plus any findings from unknown/unauthorised drone flights during the trial. The report is planned to be published by 11 June and will be followed by IPS holding a press/media day, on a date yet to be finalised.

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