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Saab Global

Using digitalisation to deal with drones

3 min read + Video

Drones are easy, accessible and great as tools or toys. But we have seen what trouble they can cause when they appear near airports, be it by accident or by malicious use. Rogue drones have recently resulted in total standstill at several major airports. So let’s take a look at why digital solutions for air traffic control paired with radar with drone detection capability are the perfect match for airports.

Digital air traffic

We all know that running airports is a complex affair which is sensitive to any interruptions. Digital air traffic control solutions mean that a lot of the air traffic control processes are automated and digitalised.

For example, by using cameras and digital screens in the control tower you can get much better night vision and you can display additional information such as weather data or visibility conditions. You can also add tracking technology to the screens, which means that incoming aircraft are automatically detected and highlighted on the screens, making monitoring easier for the air traffic controller.

This technology also allows for airports to be controlled remotely, with one digital tower handling one or several airports.

Radar and the drone challenge

When it comes to radar at airports, one issue is that many airports rely on their national radar surveillance service. And in cases where airports use local 2D surveillance radar, these struggle to identify drones. 2D radar lacks the elevation data that 3D radar provides. This is not normally a problem when tracking aircraft at airports, because the aircrafts’ transponders provide the elevation data. Drones, however, are not equipped with transponders, so 2D radar struggles to detect them.

Another challenge for airports using traditional 2D radar is that that drones not only appear very small to the radar, but they also have very similar movement patterns to birds. There could be a thousand of birds present within a 10km range of an airport. The traditional surveillance radars are programmed to identify the birds as so called radar clutter, which is removed from the radar picture. In recent years, rogue drones near airports have forced closures on several occasions, causing massive disruptions.

Saab’s Giraffe 1X radar is optimal in detection range for airports, covering the whole airport as well as the surrounding area. Like all Saab’s Giraffe radars, it is 3D which means it provides the elevation data necessary to accurately track drones. The Giraffe radars also feature an optional software add-on for drone detection and identification, which provides an update every second, telling you if there are any drones present. Its set of sophisticated criteria is able to separate drones from birds.

Drone detection and digital airports

Digital towers can handle detection and identification of drones and in a completely new way, as it automatically feeds the information into the digital tower operation. This means the air traffic controllers are automatically alerted as soon as a drone is detected. And because the radar covers an area that is much wider than the airport, the drone can be identified before it reaches the airport area, which gives valuable time to take decisions. The false alarm rate is very low, which means the operators can rely on the information and avoid interruptions as a result of unnecessary closures.

Find out more

Saab’s digital tower is currently up and running in airports in Sweden and the United Kingdom. Combining the drone detection capability with the digital tower is a perfect match for the future.

More on Giraffe 1X here