Dedrone's DroneTracker software integrates sensor data to show drone flight paths to airport operators. Image: Dedrone

Dedrone studies drone traffic near four UK airports

Security • law enforcement • countermeasures

Dedrone Inc., a supplier of drone detection and tracking technology founded in Germany in 2014 with headquarters in San Francisco and offices near Washington DC, has conducted a study of c-drone incursions at four UK airports using radio frequency (RF) sensors. 285 drones were detected over a total of 148 days of monitoring. Correlations of time of day (divided into four 6-hour periods) and day of the week were consistent across the airports studied and indicate that the vast majority of measured drone activity was in daylight, with peak time and day of drone traffic near the airports on weekend afternoons. This likely indicates hobbyist fliers seeking to capture footage, and not malicious actors.

The report, an executive summary of which is available on the Dedrone website, is timely as recent drone sightings at London Gatwick Airport just before Christmas disrupted the travel plans of at least 130,000 passengers. Gatwick was not one of the airports studied. Neither the pilot or pilots, nor the drone or drones, have been identified. The police arrested a couple from the town adjacent to the airport, but they were cleared and released afterwards. The UK’s security minister, Ben Wallace, has stated severe penalties should be applied if and when the pilot or pilots are found. According to the police, many of the Gatwick drone sightings occurred in the dark.

The published data shows there is hardly any traffic at night:

  • 22% from 6am-12pm
  • 40% from 12pm-6pm
  • 33% from 6pm-12am
  • 4% from 12am-6am

For days of the week, the weekend corresponds to 42% of the flights:

  • 9% on Monday
  • 9% on Tuesday
  • 10% on Wednesday
  • 13% on Thursday
  • 15% on Friday
  • 21% on Saturday
  • 21% on Sunday

For manufacturers, the market leaders Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) and Parrot, followed by Chinese manufacturer Hubsan, make up the overwhelming majority (97%):

  • 44% DJI
  • 32% Parrot
  • 21% Hubsan
  • 3% other

The breakdown by drone model of each manufacturer was not communicated. Dedrone says other manufacturers making up the last 3%, in particular FrSKY also from China, gained ground during the study.

Amit Samani, regional sales manager at Dedrone for the UK & Ireland, says the company decided to undertake the study when he realized the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was developing policy concerning drones without quantifiable data. He says, “The first concern of airports is for their passengers’ safety; the airports want to keep to schedule while working with their local communities to educate drone pilots about the risks to aircraft in the low-altitude airspace of takeoffs and landings.”

The c-drone industry has developed very quickly in the past few years with drone incidents reports skyrocketing; government regulations have struggled to keep pace as the industry grows and technology develops. In the UK, the law was updated in July; it is now forbidden to fly a drone within 1 km (.6 mi) of an airport, and over an altitide of 400 feet. For comparison, the limits in the USA and France are 8km (5 mi) and 5km (3.1 mi), respectively. UK law also, as of November 30, 2019, requires drone owners to register their devices over 250 grams (.55 lb) and for pilots to pass an online safety test.