The UK’s London Heathrow Airport has installed an anti-drone system designed to block drones entering its airspace after a slew of attempts threatened the country’s busiest travel hub.
The anti-drone solution, which is also used at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, is a holographic radar system developed by UK-based Aveillant. It is able to detect drones as far as five kilometres in all directions and alert the airport’s operators, according to the company.
Alongside detecting drones, the technology is also able to identify the location of the drone pilots themselves, enabling law enforcement to quickly find and stop them.
Commenting on the announcement, Heathrow Airport director of security Jonathan Coen said that investing in this technology is essential to ensure the “safety and security of our passengers and colleagues”.
In addition, this anti-drone system will enable “passengers and cargo to get to their destinations on time,” Coen added.
Aveillant claims that the counter-drone system will help Heathrow “meet its sustainability objectives” by reducing the fuel wastage and additional flight stacking caused by unauthorised drone use.
The development of the technology comes after the implementation of legislation that came into force in March 2019, and which banned unauthorised drones from flying within 5km of any airport boundary in the UK. Those breaking the law can be imprisoned up to five years.
The law was enforced after an incident at Gatwick Airport in December 2018, where a drone was flown at regular intervals over the course of a day close to its runway, grounding flights and affecting 150,000 passengers. Flights were halted for more than 24 hours during the pre-Christmas season following drone sightings.
Despite a stringent criminal sentence, climate campaigners flew drones at London airports including Heathrow in an attempt to protest against the aviation industry’s environmental damage. In September 2019, the police even arrested two people outside the perimeter of Heathrow after climate protesters tried to close it with illegal drone flights.
Current methods to counter drone threats include the using radio waves to jam the signal used by a pilot to control a drone; take over control of the equipment or even dispatching eagles or giant nets to pull craft out of the sky.
Aveillant was acquired by Thales in 2017 and its technology is now part of the French defence contractor’s anti-drone solution, EagleShield.