Task force interim report on drone incursions at airports calls for remote ID, agency-industry cooperation

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The Blue Ribbon Task Force of UAS Mitigation at Airports, announced at AUVSI's Xponential trade show this year, has released an interim report on its work and says the remote identification of drones is a critical first step to airport security.
 
The task force urged regulatory bodies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada, to create rules for remote ID as soon as possible and to incentivize voluntary compliance in the meantime. It also says remote ID should be interoperable with automated air traffic management systems and should be consistent internationally, so a drone bought in one country could be visible to the system of another nation.
 
It also says that hobbyist drones should not be exempted from remote ID, and the FAA and Transport Canada should consider requiring a remote ID system so no drones are sold without one.
 
Beyond remote ID, the interim report calls for airport community communications plans to alert all stakeholders that a rogue drone is in the vicinity; develop response plans for airports, including site planning to map high-risk incursion areas; and says preparing for incursions "should be part of the regular disaster response planning and training airports undertake."
 
The task force also says the FAA and Transport Canada should standardize their approach to DTI, or detection, tracking and identification. The FAA recently issued guidance to airports on drone incursions, but the interim report says that still leaves it up to individual airports to try to determine whether a drone detection system is legal. Canada hasn't provided any guidance to its airports, the report says, "but must do so as soon as practicable."
 
More testing of DTI and counter UAS systems is also needed, the interim report says, and federal agencies and industry should create a single UAS reporting system to see how many drone incursions occur. Canada has a similar system already, the Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System.
 
Last but not least, the panel says laws prohibiting drone operations in restricted areas should be strictly enforced to serve as a deterrent, and the task force will study whether new laws are needed.
 
The Task Force, with members from the United States and Canada, was commissioned in April by Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) and AUVSI to study the benefits and threats of UAS in and around airports and to make recommendations to industry and government.
 
It's chaired by former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, and includes members from across the airport and security industries.
 
“The initial work of the task force further underscores the importance of approaching UAS security from an overall airspace management perspective, rather than focusing solely on how to interdict an errant drone,” says AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne. “Only by working together can industry and government develop holistic policy solutions that give us the framework we need to keep the skies secure while still allowing the nascent UAS industry to truly take off.”  
 
The need for the task force was highlighted by the costly drone incursions at London's busy Gatwick Airport in December 2018, estimated to have cost tens of millions of British pounds and resulting in 160,000 passengers missing flights or connections.
 
Lessons from London
 
The interim report includes some lessons learned from those incursions and the reactions to them, including:
 

  • London airport officials undertook a site survey to understand threat risk and prepare for future incursions, something the task force says should happen in North America right now.
  • Gatwick undertook a public education campaign to ensure casual UAS operators were aware of the risk. The task force says while North American airports are doing this already, more could be done.
  • Gatwick Airport officials joined with local and federal partners to conduct table-top exercises to practice protocols in place for drone incursions and identify weaknesses. The task force says a future report will include recommendations on the basic command and control building blocks that airports should have in place to respond to incursions.
  • Gatwick officials worked with federal partners on their response, and the task force says airports in the United States and Canada should do the same as they develop mitigation plans.
  • Airport officials in London faced numerous communications challenges, including updating passengers on what was going on. American and Canadian airports will face the same, including being "inundated" with requests to help by outside vendors, the task force says. It plans to issue recommendations on this in the future.
  • Threat assessment leaders at Gatwick were able to conduct an assessment about the safety of reopening the airport without outside pressure, and were aided in their work by UAS detection technology from the Royal Air Force and outside vendors. The task force says North American airports should know that "having a clear threat assessment matrix and well-defined decision-making authority will be keys to successfully navigating this threat. ..."

Future plans
 
The Task Force will release a comprehensive report later this year, followed by key congressional and governmental meetings in support of its recommendations. The final report will include additional topics including privacy, liability, lines of authority, and future delegation of counter-UAS authority, and will offer a template for airports to follow as response protocols are developed.
 
The goal is for this work to create and inform future conversations about drone mitigation at other facilities, such as national landmarks, stadiums, prisons, military bases, and other critical infrastructure.
 
Below: Andrew Velasquez III, managing deputy commissioner of the Safety and Security Divisionof CDA, second from right, and Matt Cornelius, EVPof Airports Council International - North America, discuss the task force at AUVSI Xponential 2019. Photo: Becphotography

Andrew Velasquez III, managing deputy commissioner of the Safety and Security Division of CDA, second from right, and Matt Cornelius, EVP of Airports Council International - North America, discuss the task force at AUVSI Xponential 2019. Photo: Becphotogr