Drone detection system keeping an eye on the skies at the Ottawa Airport

Drone in mid-flight. Aug. 23/20 (Eric Taschner/CTV Northern Ontario)

The Ottawa International Airport's new drone detection system identified more than 250 drones flying in illegal airspace near the airport this spring.

The airport has partnered with Indro Robotics, QinetiQ and NAV Canada to pioneer a drone detection pilot program to monitor the airspace around the Ottawa International Airport. The area is a no-fly zone for drones.

"What we are seeing and reporting to Transport Canada is a very disturbing trend that requires a quick response to reverse the number of drone operators flying in restricted areas," said Mark Laroche, President of the Ottawa International Airport about the early results of the pilot project.

In March, 101 drone flights were detected within 5.6 kilometres of the airport, while there were 167 drone flights detected near the airport in April.

"A number of these were flown during hours of darkness and some exceeding altitudes of 1,600 feet," said Laroche.

Transport Canada guidelines state it's illegal to fly a drone within 5.6 kilometres of the centre of any airport in Canada. Anyone operating a drone that weighs over 260 grams must have a drone pilot certificate and only fly drones that are marked and registered.

The YOW drone detection pilot program is using two types of technology: radio frequency detection and micro Doppler radar. The RF drone detection can detect drones operating on 2.4 and 5.8 ghz within a 15-kilometre radius, and can determine the make and size of the device.  The system includes a user interface that provides real-time and consolidated historical reports including drone ID numbers in most cases.

In March, the RF drone detection provided by Indro Robotics detected 1,626 flights within the 15-kilometre zone.

Micro Doppler radar uses millimetric wave radar to detect the movement of the small spinning propellers on a drone flying within two kilometres of the airport.

The airport insists the program is not intended to shame nor scare drone operators and the public.

"The vast majority of drone operators aren’t out there trying to disrupt aviation nor threaten aircraft," says Laroche.

"But we need to know where they are and if they do pose a threat, be ready to take the appropriate action that we as an airport can take to ensure safety."

24 DRONE FLIGHTS IN A MONTH

The airport says on March 15, a privately-operated drone took an unauthorized 11-minute flight just north of the airfield at the Ottawa International Airport.

The same drone flew 24 flights during March, including flights close to the Civic Hospital Air Ambulance Helipad, the CHEO Helipad and Parliament Hill.

"We know what type of drone it was, its unique ID number, its flight time, flight path and its maximum altitude," says Michael Beaudette, YOW’s VP of Security, Emergency Management and Customer Transportation.

"It should not have been flying in any of those locations and in doing so, was in violation of Transport Canada regulations."