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Dubai Airport’s New Guardian: a Drone-Hunting Drone

Airports around the globe are considering new methods to respond to the proliferation of unmanned aircraft systems (also known as “UAS” or “drones”) and the increased number of near-misses between drones and airplanes. In addition to strengthening its laws to curb such operations, the third busiest airport in the world, Dubai International Airport (DXB), has taken a technological approach to the problem—a sophisticated watchdog drone which can detect other drones flying in the airport’s perimeter and track down the operator’s location.

DXB, like many other airports, recently experienced several near-misses involving drones operating within the airport’s no-fly zone. In the last six months, the airport has been twice shutdown following drone incursions around DXB.  In response, the Dubai-based airline Emirates called on the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) and the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (“Dubai CAA”) to adopt tougher UAS rules and to ensure the safety of manned aircraft operations at DXB.

UAE regulations already prohibit UAS operations within five kilometers of the airport. Violators can face penalties and incarceration.  However, as in the United States, these rules are often difficult to enforce because illegal UAS operations are challenging to monitor and identify.

In response, the Dubai CAA has been testing a “drone-hunting” drone, which can detect drones unlawfully flying near DXB. The drone-hunter aerially patrols the airport perimeter, using a thermal and infrared imaging to detect unauthorized drones, tracks their frequencies, follows the UAS back to its owner, and sends a signal to the Dubai police.  If the “drone hunter” trials are successful, the Dubai CAA announced it will deploy more drones to routinely monitor Dubai airports’ airspace.

A drone-hunting drone is the latest addition to the numerous innovative options for drone defenses, although such operations are prohibited in the United States. [See here for previous coverage on drone defenses]  As governments incorporate drones into the airspace, drone defense technologies are crucial to protect manned aircraft, proprietary business information, trade secrets, and personal privacy.