FAA doubles down on airport counterdrone tech

The Federal Aviation Administration is doubling down on its efforts to ensure unwanted drones aren’t flying anywhere near airports, as evidenced by news today about a new airport counterdrone operation.

The FAA today announced that a previously-held partnership with counterdrone tech company Dedrone has been expanded. What started as a test project at a single airport, New Jersey’s Atlantic City International Airport, has today officially grown to two test projects.

Now, there are two U.S. airports where Dedrone will use its airport counterdrone technology, which includes detection, tracking, identification and mitigation products, to conduct research about general airport counterdrone operations. Though, neither the FAA nor Dedrone will not disclose the site of the second, newly-announced partnering airport (though it’s one of five participating airports named below).

What is the extent of the FAA’s partnership with Dedrone?

Dedrone’s newly-expanded FAA partnership all comes under Section 383 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which provides for testing of all sorts of airport counterdrone technologies to develop clearer regulations around their use. In short, the FAA wants to make airports safer from disruptions caused by drones.

After all, most drones cannot legally fly near airports, given that most airports are located within Class B or C airspace. Drones cannot legally fly in that type of airspace without permission, such as a LAANC authorization waiver.

Dedrone was part of the first round of all sorts of technologies selected for testing, and it has now been invited to expand to a second airport (the exact name of which is set to be disclosed at a later date) as part of the ongoing research being conducted by the FAA.

Those tests were announced back in 2021 after an initial call for private companies and researchers to participate in them as far back as in 2020. Though, the first tests didn’t actually get started until February 2022, and have been occurring at five airports around the U.S. They are:

  • Atlantic City International Airport, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey
  • Huntsville International Airport, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Rickenbacker International Airport, Columbus, Ohio
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, Washington
  • Syracuse Hancock International Airport, Syracuse, New York

Those five specific airports were selected because they meet “FAA requirements for diverse testing environments and represent airport operating conditions found across the U.S.” 

The FAA says its counterdrone test project is set to run through Sept. 30, 2023. Among the goals of the research is to ideally implement new technologies that could prevent close encounters or collisions with drones that fly near airports — ultimately creating standards for drone detection and mitigation at airports nationwide.

The FAA says it will use the results of the testing in its development of a plan for the certification and authorization of counterdrone detection and mitigation systems in the National Airspace System (NAS), which would eventually be used at key spots around the U.S. including at airports.

An illustration provided by DeDrone shows the company’s DedroneTracker software at work.

What airport counterdrone tech is being used?

The primary Dedrone product set to be used at the second, undisclosed airport (as well as at the Atlantic City airport) is called DedroneTracker, a sensor-fusion platform providing drone detection, tracking, identification (DTI) and mitigation via artificial intelligence.

The DedroneTracker can confirm not just the presence of a drone, but also determine its precise location. Dedrone’s AI engine looks at real-time drone behavior, imagery, known flight modeling and other inputs to offer the operator a prioritized queue of targets through autonomous background interrogation. It might also simultaneously track what are considered ‘friendly’ drones. 

Dedrone also recently released a DedroneDefender precision jammer. This product uses narrow-band jamming, which in theory would minimize disruption to other devices while also meeting the MIL-STD-810H military standard. Narrow-band or “comb” jamming typically reduces the risk of interference with other systems in the area, like Wi-Fi.

The DedroneDefender precision jammer

Such tech is seen as useful in mitigating fears of drones colliding with aircraft — something that’s been a concern for years. For example, in 2018 an Internet video went viral for depicting a drone flying near a Frontier airline in Vegas. That specific video generated so much concern that even drone industry advocates called for the FAA to find the pilot and take action. That same year, there was an unprecedented shutdown at London’s Gatwick airport during the already-busy holiday season over suspicions that a rogue drone was flying near the airport in the days ahead of Christmas, forcing planes to stay grounded or land elsewhere.

And beyond just airports, there are concerns over drones flying near other key sites. Especially in the early years of consumer drones coming to market, major headlines including stories of have drones crashing into cyclists during bike races, and the 2015 saga of a DJI Phantom drone crashing near the White House.

What the expansion means for Dedrone

The news is a win for Dedrone, which was established in 2014 and today is headquartered just outside of Washington, D.C. The company also has offices in San Francisco, Calif.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Columbus, Ohio; London, United Kingdom and Kassel, Germany.

Today’s news proves expansion of what’s already a long line of involvement with the U.S. government. Dedrone already counts roughly 30 U.S. federal entities as customers as its tech is used to track drones at key federal sites. That has even included a Dedrone partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) focused on emerging technologies within the U.S. military. DIUx gas experimented with Dedrone’s technology to provide situational awareness of drone activity over protected sites.

Outside the U.S., Dedrone has customers spread across 40 countries, many of which are also government contracts (the company says it is used by about 20 other governments, and it also claims four of the G-7 nation governments as customers).

In the private sector, Dedrone tech is used across more than 100 critical infrastructure sites, 30 airports and 50 stadiums.

Dedrone is on a pretty big growth tear in 2023. Earlier this year, Dedrone acquired drone detection and ID specialist Aerial Armor, which was founded in 2016 as a service provider for detecting and managing drone-related threats. That acquisition brought massive growth to Dedrone, which honored all Aerial Armor customer contracts and retained all employees, including Aerial Armor’s CEO Russ Haugan and CTO Matt Altman. 

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