The threat of drones to air travel

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Virtually every one of the world’s commercial airports and leading destinations currently remain vulnerable to criminal abuse or ‘rogue’ operation of drone technology, notwithstanding the shock wake-up call from the chaos at London’s Gatwick Airport last month before Christmas and more recently at London Heathrow, as well as last week’s exploding drone incident in Yemen.

This warning is because there remains very low awareness among the business community of the extraordinary pace at which drone technology is evolving… and this makes staying ahead of the threat posed by those who would abuse this technology challenging, for even the most competent of businesses and management teams.

The commercial air drone market is currently still like the Wild West… exciting, and representing unprecedented economic opportunity for companies and organizations which are fast adopting this exceptional technology. However, there will always be those who would flaunt laws and regulation to cause maximum disruption around the world. This particularly impacts on more vulnerable sectors such as airports, financial centers, energy facilities, stadiums and concert venues, etc, which require tailored defense strategies to protect against what is a new and real security challenge.

The British Armed Forces have been world leaders in the use of drone technology, for both offense and defense, for many years, long before the recent adoption by the business world, and it is their techniques which are now being applied, particularly in counter-drone strategies, which utilize an ever-evolving range of advanced technologies to detect, track, identify and defeat the threat posed by those who would abuse air drone technology for nefarious means.

There are literally hundreds of counter-drone products and manufacturers worldwide and the market is expanding on a daily basis, making it extremely difficult to keep track… which is one reason why the rapid, often knee-jerk adoption of such technology in the face of media pressure, while sometimes providing a short-term fix, can often be a long term error of judgement and, in isolation of appropriate policies and procedures, is rarely effective.

Our counter-drone team, primarily ex-military, continually analyze this market to identify those systems which will be of most appropriate use to our clients in the application of both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ effect counter-drone measures. Soft effect measures include intelligence-led threat identification, robust airspace management with commensurate risk management policies and legal procedures. Hard measures are broken down into ‘Detect, Track and Identify’ and ‘Defeat’, which are subject to strict usage restrictions.

One of the challenges for our clients in all sectors is the need to adopt drone technology always within a disciplined strategy which supports the organization, ensures security and also ‘future proofs’ what is put in place. The adoption of counter-drone technology is no exception and so we would urge those organizations reacting to recent events to take a breath and think strategically.

As far as criminals or ‘rogue’ drone operators are concerned, they will always exist… but their task will be made much more difficult by an increasingly informed business community, the putting in place of more sophisticated counter-drone strategies, the implementation of the forthcoming ‘Drone Bill’ within the UK and the adoption of the new aerial drone standards, which were launched for public and peer group consultation in November 2018 by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). Their deadline for public responses on this consultation is January 21, 2019.

About the author

Robert Garbett is founder and chief executive of Drone Major Group, a global drone and counter-drone consultancy, convenor of the ISO Working Group responsible for global drone standards, and chairman of the BSI Committee for UK Drone Standards. He is the only authority to be advising on standards in Britain, Europe and worldwide, a leading consultant within the global drone industry, and an advocate on the potential of drone technology to transform economies.

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