The increasing availability of drones have finally prompted two major international airports, the U.K.’s Heathrow and Gatwick, to procure anti-drone systems. While these moves may signal a boon for counter-drone technology, they also underscore the danger of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) use in restricted air space.

Canada has recently released new, stricter guidelines for commercial drone use; the U.S., the EU and China also have regulations in place. Since 2017, at least three drone-plane collisions have been reported, and there have been numerous instances of near misses.

Gatwick suffered a spate of drone sightings in a three-day period leading up to the 2018 Christmas holiday, according to Reuters. The airport cancelled more than 1,000 flights in late December, impacting 140,000 air travelers. The local police force reported UAV sightings from 115 witnesses, including airport staff, police officers and a pilot.

british airways (Image courtesy: Gatwick)

The U.K. military – members of the Royal Air Force – deployed anti-drone technology during the disruption. Two people were arrested on December 22 for “criminal use of drones.”

Heathrow and Gatwick announced they will be investing millions of pounds in anti-drone systems, which can detect and jam communications between a UAV and its operator. Globally, the anti-drone market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.8% over the next five years, from $499 million in 2018 to $2,276 million by 2024, according to information released by ReportBuyer. Grand View Research Inc. projects the global anti-drone market will reach $1.85 billion by 2024, a 24.1% t CAGR from 2014.

The use of anti-drone technology at commercial airports, to date, is rare, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “The only airport we are aware of that uses anti-drone technology is [Charles de Gaulle]/Paris,” said Mona Aubin, manager of corporate communication for the IATA. The organization has published a bulletin on the implementation of systems to counter UAVs.

Researchers predict the use of drones for security-, terrorism-and-surveillance activity will increase significantly during the next five years. At the same time, commercial drone use is rising as well.

“A sharp rise in adoption of UAVs for leisure and professional applications has augmented personal as well as government concerns regarding aerial attacks,” according to GrandView. “Rising threats of aerial attacks have opened up substantial new market opportunities for the evolution of counter-UAV measures. Various commercial establishments and public safety departments worldwide are increasingly deploying counter-UAV measures to address the ever-growing need for security.”

Anti-drone systems are developed largely by military and defense contractors, which will benefit from the counter-UAV technology surge, researchers said. The market for anti-drone systems in military and defense applications is expected to reach $900 million by 2024, according to the research firm.

Laser-based systems, which can track drones; jam their communications; or shoot them out of the air, will be in highest demand. Laser technology applications range from anti-drone guns to mobile platforms mounted on tanks and other vehicles. Laser systems mostly find their applications in military and defense because they are fast, flexible, precise and carry a low cost per shot.

The Americas is likely to account for a major share of the global anti-drone market through 2024, due to rising incidences of security breaches by unidentified drones and increasing terrorist attacks in the Americas. The Asia-Pacific market is forecast to grow by 30% by 2024, according to GrandView, due to increased government expenditures in the development of aerospace infrastructure across emerging economies.

However, there are headwinds facing anti-drone technologies. The relatively high cost of equipment and stringent federal enforcement are expected to challenge the adoption and usage of counter UAV measures over the next several years. In the U.S., individual states have differing drone restrictions. In the first quarter of 2016, during a wildfire in Southern California, multiple drones kept firefighters grounded by interfering in their operations. Immediately after, California introduced a bill permitting firefighters to take down UAVs that were or might interfere with rescue operations.

Major players in the anti-drone market include Thales Group, Blighter Surveillance Systems, Lockheed Martin, Saab, Raytheon, Dedrone, Israel Aerospace Industries, Security and Counterintelligence Group, DroneShield, Liteye Systems, Theiss UAV Solutions, BSS Holland, and Prime Consulting & Technology.