Ottawa International Airport is testing new technology to counter the threat drones pose to airport operations.
The issue came to a head last year when drone sightings caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled at London’s Gatwick airport. Since then, governments and airports around the world have been scrambling to counter what they perceive as a growing threat as drones become cheaper and their use more widespread.
The airport authority in the nation’s capital is partnering with NAV Canada – which supplies air traffic control services across the country – and QinetiQ Canada to test a so-called micro-Doppler radar system that has been designed to scan for drones.
A report by a Blue Ribbon Task Force in July recommended airports do more to limit the impact drones could have on the flying public.
“The trial with QinetiQ’s Obsidian Counter UAS System will provide all parties the opportunity to test a viable detection and mitigation system at an active airport,” said Mark Laroche, President and CEO of the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority, and member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. “The trial dovetails perfectly with both the Airport Authority’s Drone Incident Protocol and the recommendations in the BRTF’s Interim and Final reports.”
At more than 1,700 hectares, securing Ottawa International’s perimeter is no small task. The Blue Ribbon Task Force says radar can help pinpoint moving targets, but traditional systems have trouble detecting slow-moving vehicles and cannot tell authorities where a drone’s pilot might be.
The trial is meant to see if QinetiQ’s micro-Doppler allows controllers and airport authorities to accurately detect drones and initiate an early response, before they can affect flight operations. The test will also see if the new system is compatible with other systems at the airport.
“Establishing drone security measures at airports is a crucial component to mitigating risks and maintaining the safety of our skies. Collaborations like this one are crucial to developing policies and practices that ensure drones are safely integrated in our airspace,” said Neil Wilson, CEO of NAV Canada, and member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force.
QinetiQ says its Obsidian system is designed to find small drones, while ignoring birds and other small animals. Once a drone is detected, the system will alert controllers and the authorities to the risk.
“This trial will provide all parties with operational evaluation, as well as considerable data to inform future improvements, all the while providing immediate benefits to safety,” said Robert Aubé, Managing Director of QinetiQ Canada.
The technology was first designed for military use, and QinetiQ says a deployment with the British Army detected more than 99% of threats, with less than one false alarm per week.