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Huntsville International Airport and FAA partner in drone risk mitigation program

Huntsville International Airport is one of five airports testing drone detection systems for the FAA.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Huntsville International Airport is one of five airports in the nation that have partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration to test out systems that detect and/or mitigate potential aviation safety risks brought on by drones.

Ryan Gardner, Senior Manager of Operations at Huntsville Airport says, "when the Reauthorization Act happened in 2018 and this program became a thing. We submitted our name in the hat, as it were. And in 2021, we were selected as one of the five airports nationwide to help with this technology selection."

The Title 49 U.S.C. Section 383 program requires the FAA to test and evaluate systems that detect potential drone threats.

Huntsville International Airport had their first system installation done in December of 2022.

"With drones becoming more prevalent, really, there's a need to be able to detect, you know, whether it's an authorized or unauthorized UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) in that environment...it's something in the airspace that another aircraft could collide with or could cause some sort of issue with that flight. And, you know, it's the safety of the traveling public that we're trying to maintain," Gardner said.

As they work to maintain travel safety both on the ground and in the sky, they say proper detection systems would provide airports with one more tool to use.

"If we see an unauthorized activity, let's say it's entering the fence, it's encroaching across a runway, and you have an aircraft landing or taking off of there...if we're aware of that threat, then it allows us to deconflict those. You know, it may be moving that aircraft, to another point, canceling that landing clearance or takeoff clearance until that hazard be addressed," Gardner said.

The FAA uses a third party to pilot the drones, working together to test the systems.

Dan Pierce, Senior Pilot for EnrGies, who was subcontracted by the FAA, says their involvement includes, "detection based testing, just being able to identify aircraft as they are flying around. They ask us to fly preset flight profiles that they send us, and then we obviously verify that everything looks good. It's in our registered flight areas."

These operations take place within a five-mile radius of the Huntsville Airport who say they're excited to be a part of this research.

"We partner with our federal entities every day. But this is just one more side of the FAA that we get to to work with. And again, it's just having the community that we do…it just helps us further what's already in place here," Gardner said.

The program is set to end in September of 2023 and they recommend anyone looking into getting drone technology, to make sure they're aware of the rules set by the FAA.

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