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How 'geo-fencing' can keep drones away from busy airports

Image: Geofencing - drone flying over a runway.

Drones have risen in popularity in recent years, but stories of near-misses involving passenger jets at busy airports are a worrying development.

It’s no wonder that the pilot of an Airbus A319, with 130 people on board, said he was “startled” when a drone flew over his right wing as he was about to land at London Gatwick in July. In October a drone flew into aircraft in Quebec City which caused an emergency landing, to which Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau exclaimed: “This should not have happened.”

But the chances of averting disaster could increase following recent research. The work of a team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst proposes fitting modules that can not only transmit the position of the drone – also known as a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) - but that also take control of the machine if it flies close to a ‘no-fly zone’ around an airport.
Drones are relatively cheap, easily available and there are few rules on their use. A study by the Department of Transport found that drones could do significant damage to a plane’s windscreen, leading to the UK government proposing new rules on their use and registration.

What does the research from the University of Amherst propose? 

  • A module that includes a GPS tracker and an on-board controller is fitted to new drones, or retro-fitted to older ones

  • Drone owners will be required to register their machines online or via an app

  • A five-mile no-fly perimeter around an airport, with a further buffer zone of one mile will be set around airports, is programmed into the drone’s on-board module – this is known as ‘geo-fencing’

  • If a drone crosses into the buffer zone, a warning message will be sent to the pilot. They can then land the drone, or fly it out of the buffer zone away from the airport

  • But if they do not take these options, the on-board controller takes over. The drone will hover or land before it enters the no-fly zone.

Do you want to know more about how the research of the team from UMass Amherst has led to these proposals? Take a look at
‘Geo-fencing to secure airport perimeter against sUAS’ in the International Journal of Intelligent Unmanned Systems, Vol 5.4.

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