NEW DELHI: With reports that spotting of unmanned aircraft or drones in the restricted airspace near airports was rapidly increasing, the government is mulling raising a separate unit to counter the remotely operated birds that can put lives of fliers at risk if they collide with commercial flights.Sources said the Civil Aviation Ministry was working on a proposal to create anti-drone “command centres” at major airports to deal with the risk to air traffic. Small drones flying at low altitudes had recently triggered concerns at some busy airports.
A senior official said the aviation ministry was in touch with at least 10 top foreign companies to set up anti-drone command centres, which will be known as “drone war rooms”. The first point being worked on is how to cripple a drone’s radio signal, with its operator probably sitting miles away from the airport.
“We are exploring the possibility of jamming signals to bring down the number of drones flying near airports. The talks with drone manufacturers have been on to establish a command centre manned by experts who would be able to detect, penetrate and neutralise radio signals of drones, which could collide with aircraft,” the official said.
It is learnt that the Civil Aviation Ministry has invited all 10 companies to give a demonstration. They have been asked to assemble in Delhi sometime in February next year to showcase their capability to deal with rogue drones. Sources said an Indian company, IdeaForge, has also been invited by the government. The company claims to be the first indigenous drone manufacturer. It was started in 2007 by four IIT Bombay students. IdeaForge, in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation, had developed Netra, a micro-drone used by the Indian armed forces and other government organizations for surveillance and reconnaissance operations.
“No other country at present has any mechanism to take down drones flying dangerously close to airports. In the US, the menace is growing and the Federal Aviation Administration is scrambling to handle the situation. The real threat is not from easily available toys, but from drones fitted with powerful explosives that could target aircraft,” a source said.
Asked why manufacturers were being sounded out to take out drones, sources said those that built the birds would know their vulnerabilities and would be in a position to suggest ways of destroying them.
But will the proposed command centre be able to identify the drone operators? Sources said short-listed manufacturers had been told that this was one of the key requirements.
“We want expertise for unlocking the system once the drone is down. Its data have to be analysed by law enforcement officials and forensic experts. This will be one of the crucial units within the proposed command centre that will digital investigators and cyber experts on board,” a source added.
This year, there have been 18 instances of drone spotting around airports from only nine last year. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation had earlier announced draft regulations clearly stating that remotely piloted systems cannot be operated within an area of 5 km from the airport.