The increase in prevalence of drones and the companies that wish to operate them at or near airports presents two key challenges to the forward-thinking airport: how to enable access to the airspace without impacting existing operations, with the second being how to protect the airport from so-called ‘rogue drones’.

Commonly, drone pilots use planning tools to prepare for their flights. These apps typically provide relevant information to help the drone operator determine where they can legally fly, how to fly more safely, and in some cases, how to request permission to fly in an otherwise restricted area. Most of the world’s airports are not prepared to handle the increase in the number of drone pilots who are, or will be, requesting access to fly on or within the airport’s controlled airspace. Of those that are, situation awareness and ‘rogue drone’ detection are serious concerns that are unaddressed.

A not-too-distant reality

Future-looking airports are looking for solutions that enable them to be prepared for – and to embrace – drone usage. That’s why Altitude Angel has partnered with two of the most trusted names in air traffic management – NATS and Frequentis – to test, deploy and enhance its management operating system for drone traffic integration at airports. With Altitude Angel’s solutions, any airport can safely integrate drones into every day operations with minimum investment and in many cases without new equipment.

Deploying the company’s technology enables an airport to digitally accept and manage requests to fly within their controlled airspace by any drone operator, as well as set-up service tiers and automation rules to manage increasing volumes of requests, all fully integrated into any electronic flight strip solution so that familiar, everyday existing equipment can be used to service those requests, minimising re-training and deployment costs.

The same solution can ensure ‘rogue drones’ can be detected and identified, and appropriate security responses can be initiated. This is not only vital from a safety perspective, but also economic: closure of an airport is expensive and very few airports have solutions.

Firmly at present

But this isn’t all about the future, as in late November 2018, Altitude Angel’s GuardianUTM O/S software was successfully deployed at Manchester Airport, which welcomes 28-million passenger movements every year, as part of ‘Operation Zenith’, the world’s largest and most significant demonstration of how drones can be integrated into controlled airspace around an airport.

GuardianUTM O/S gave air traffic controllers full visibility into nearby requested and current drone operations as well as helped to automatically keep separation between drone traffic and air traffic, by being fully integrated with airport radar and on-site drone detection equipment from Dedrone and DJI.

Embrace integration

On a common platform, Manchester Airport – fully supported by NATS, the UK’s main ANSP – was able to embrace drone usage and integrate it with normal, everyday airport operations across a highly representative set of complex integration scenarios, without any issues.

Chris Wild, head of airport operations, Manchester Airport, said, "We are delighted with how the demonstration came together to showcase how manned and unmanned aviation can be undertaken collaboratively within controlled airspace." Drone technology is here to stay and it’s vital that airports are ready to embrace these new aviation users. Trial programs are available from the Altitude Angel website.