MIAMI – The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has chosen Miami International Airport (MIA) as the site of its first test of technologies to detect, monitor, and identify (DTI) drones that enter restricted airspace. When flown into such restricted airspaces, drones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), pose a threat to aviation security.

“TSA’s establishment and management of this assessment of UAS detection technologies is a critical part of our agency’s overall strategy to collect data for further deployments of equipment at U.S. airports,” said TSA Federal Security Director Daniel Ronan.

“The UAS threat to airports has increased exponentially over the last several years, which is why it is vital we begin assessing the effectiveness of UAS DTI technologies in live airport environments,” said TSA Counter-UAS Capability Manager Jim Bamberger. “We are thrilled to partner with MIA on such a mission-critical project that will pave the way for future technology assessments and help protect airports nationwide against UAS threats.”

Image: MIA

A Pending Issue for Airports

The issue of UAS threat to airports is, of course, now new. Two years ago, the Massachusetts Port Authority’s chief security officer, Harold Shaw, spoke to the Senate Commerce Committee’s Transportation Subcommittee about the dangers that UAS posed at airports and public venues, and asked the committee to encourage state and local public safety partners “to take care of their own safety.”

At the time, local authorities lacked the authority and technology to respond to any drone incident, according to Shaw, who testified at the June 18, 2019 hearing. He advocated an integrated system that allowed both air traffickers and law enforcement to effectively identify drones and a way to mitigate drones that pose threats.

Photo: MIA

Partnering with MIA

TSA chose MIA as the first UAS DTI testbed due to an ongoing perimeter intrusion technology pilot as well as the strong existing partnerships with the airport.

Although several are equipped with GPS software that prevents them from operating in restricted areas, many operators do not adhere to rules and safety restrictions, posing a security and safety risk to individuals, facilities, and airplanes in the national airspace (NAS).

“Congratulations to MIA for being selected as the test airport for this historic security effort by our federal government,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “Miami-Dade County is fortunate to be the home of one of the nation’s leading airports in passenger and cargo operations, and also security and safety.”

Photo: Airways

DTI Testing

TSA is testing the efficacy of some technologies that can detect, monitor, and identify UAS threats in aviation, surface, and related transportation domains. To do this, TSA is joining with airports, local law enforcement, and intra-agency partners like the DHS Science & Technology Directorate (S&T). The technologies will be evaluated in laboratory and operational field environments.

Lab technician performing acceptance testing prior to deployment at the MIA UAS test bed. Photo: MIA

TSA will test a variety of security and surveillance technologies at MIA, including radar, thermal imaging, and artificial intelligence, to detect, monitor, and identify UAS operations.

“We are extremely proud to be chosen by TSA for this landmark test of drone detection technology, which will reap unprecedented security benefits for MIA and our sister airports across the country,” said Lester Sola, MIA Director and CEO. “We look forward to bolstering our strong partnership with TSA through this new initiative, as we continue to advance our shared priority of enhancing the safety and security of our passengers, employees and business partners.”

Equipment will be checked and analyzed during the MIA test bed process, and the data collected will be shared with interagency and industry partners for further evaluation and assessment. The data and information gathered during the test will aid in the development of effective strategies to mitigate the risks posed by unauthorized UAS operations to the nation’s transportation system.

Featured image: Government IT GCN.