When drones turn bad: Ottawa airport testing new anti-drone technologies

Ottawa International Airport is introducing technology to tackle unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in its vicinity. This move follows a series of incidents involving drones at airports across the world

Anti Drone qinetiq shown targeting a rogue drown in the air
How the anti-drone technology may work. Photo: QinetiQ

The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority partnered with NAV CANADA and QinetiQ Canada to trial the company’s Obsidian Counter UAS System. This trial seeks to evaluate the swift detection of drones around the airport. Thereafter, the program will asses how effective the system is to initiate an appropriate response to a drone.

Meanwhile, the test will assess the system’s compatibility with other devices that could cause interference at the airport. Ottawa Airport also wants to demonstrate its commitment to promoting creativity and leadership in addressing the challenge of UAV detection and mitigation.

Counter attack

This introduction of anti-drone technology is a response to the impact that drones have been having at global aviation hubs. One of the most talked-about incidents was the reported drone sightings at London Gatwick last year.

This had grounded aircraft for days, impacting 140,000 passengers and 1,000 flights. The events hit the pockets of many airlines such as easyJet, which lost £15million.

At the turn of this year, airports in the United States had also started to report drone interferences. Two of the vehicles were spotted close to Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, causing flights to be halted.

Ottawa airport showing two planes on the tarmac
Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport wants to lead the way for anti-drone technology. Photo: shankar s. via Flickr

Why the drama?

Airliners have to be grounded due to drone activity for various reasons. Firstly, pilots are conceded that a drone striking an aircraft windscreen or a helicopter rotor can cause serious damage. Along with this, there are fears that the drone can be ingested by an aircraft engine. The device’s lithium batteries could cause a serious reaction while inside, creating a huge risk.

One of the larger concerns is the use of drones in terrorist activity. The UAVs could be strapped with explosives or other materials to aid perpetrators when on a runway or in the air. The Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone Code warns users to stay clear of airports and airfields. The code also urges those controlling drones to stay below 400 feet while keeping away from aircraft.

Drone flying in the sky
There is a love/hate relationship with drones in society. Photo: Pete via Flickr

Positive use

Despite measures in place to counter drones at airports, some authorities are looking at drones as a useful tool for the future. Simple Flying reports that the United Kingdom is investing £300million in sustainable air travel.

A big focus of this proposal is the development of Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) autonomous drone services by 2023. These devices are planned to be used for activities such as cargo shipping and security.

Drones will have a greater presence in society as we head into the next decade. There will be measures countering and aligning with the technology as institutions adapt to the changes.

What do you think of Ottawa Airport’s measures against drones? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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