As the dust settles over the drone incident at London’s Gatwick airport before Christmas, officials seem no closer to understanding what happened, who was responsible or even if anyone actually was responsible.
Iain Gray, director of aerospace at Cranfield University, took time out this week to speak at a briefing at the Science Media Centre in London. He argued that whatever happened, Gatwick had proven itself woefully unprepared for the prospect of a rogue drone and was too “slow in adopting technologies for identifying what is in their airspace”.
“[For Gatwick] to have been closed for three days implies there was not a good resilience plan in place,” he said, as well as no proper procedure for deciding when it would be safe to resume flights.
Much of the confusion and uncertainty clearly came down to a lack of situational awareness on the part of airport security, who appeared to be making decisions based on witness reports rather than technological detection.
But Gray is correct: it seems obvious that a situation of the kind that unfolded hadn’t been prepared for. In fact, Professor Gray and aerospace engineering consultant Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, went as far as to suggest that holographic radar be used at UK airports.
“Conventional airport radars are not designed to see small objects flying slowly, because they don’t want clutter on the screen,” said Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, an aerospace engineering consultant. “They are designed to see big things moving fast.”
By contrast, holographic radar allows airspace to be analysed digitally. “You can zoom in and look at anything you see,” said Prof Gray.
Another Counter-drone Company Throws its Hat in the Ring
Coincidentally, a leading developer of holographic radar was also present: UK-based, French-owned Aveillant. Chief executive Dominic Walker said the company’s Gamekeeper drone detection radar is in operation at airports around the world – including Paris Charles de Gaulle – but is not yet live in the UK.
“Holographic radar works quite differently to conventional radar, which scans the sky with a narrow beam that picks up reflections,” said Mr Walker. “We floodlight the whole sky. It’s like switching on the lights in a room rather than searching with a torch.”
Having said that, Gamekeeper is designed to help you identify drones nearby. Once you’ve done that the challenge is deciding what to do with them.