A Plane's Near-collision With Drone Elevates Importance of UAS Regulations for Airport Safety

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An incident, involving an American Airlines plane and a small unmanned aircraft system almost colliding earlier this year, calls to attention new concerns for America's already busy airspace. HGH Infrared Systems' Spynel system could assist in detecting early threats of UAS.

Earlier this year, an American Airlines Bombardier CRJ-200 was flying at 2,300 feet in the air and about 5 miles away from its Tallahassee Regional Airport destination when an unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft flew so close to the plane that the pilot was quoted as saying he was sure he had collided with the Unmanned Aircraft System (Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/09/us-american-airline-drone-idUSBREA480UU20140509). Upon inspection, it was found that no damage or collision had occurred, but this incident and several others like it involving UAS are a strong reminder that with this new rise in unmanned aircraft technology come greater obligations in keeping our skies safe.

Jim Williams, the FAA’s head of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems office, spoke about the potential dangers involved, drawing in comparison to the infamous “Miracle on the Hudson” incident in 2009 when a US Airways flight struck a bird upon takeoff and had to crash land in New York’s Hudson River. Bird strikes are dangerous enough, but as Williams told Reuters, “Imagine a metal and plastic object—especially with (a) big lithium battery—going into a high speed engine. The results could be catastrophic”. Though currently banned by the FAA for commercial use, there is growing pressure for UAS to be more widely permitted, an integration that will likely take plenty time to safely execute into the world’s busiest and most difficult airspace.

One possible solution to help with monitoring a busy airport’s increasing air traffic could be an intuitive and versatile, 360 degree infrared thermal imaging sensor with automatic detection and tracking software that would alert pilots and ground crews of any close by, unauthorized UAS. The Spynel system from HGH Infrared Systems, based in Cambridge, MA, can detect and track a small UAS in near real time up to 11 km away and act like an optical radar. In addition to providing 24/7 surveillance through any type of inclement weather, day or night, Spynel systems also can provide TSA officials an effective means to gather forensic information at any time over a period of 30 days to replay any event captured. The system records to the widely-used AVI video format enabling images to be saved easily to file, burned to DVD and transmitted across a wide variety of Windows compatible devices. This flexibility can provide clear event documentation that could be used as legal evidence.

The introduction of UAS to the aviation world has changed the way airports and air traffic controllers operate; the rising number of unmanned aircraft systems spanning across the globe should be met with reliable and innovative security systems in place to ensure a safe environment for both the travelers and airport personnel.

Founded in 1982, HGH designs, develops, assembles and sells complete high end optronics systems for security, industrial and civil applications. HGH’s team of highly qualified engineers is comprised of experts in optics, software, mechanics and electronics and operates in the US, out of Boston, MA. HGH strives to provide advanced and innovative infrared equipment to protect their clients all around the world, while keeping the agility and dedication of a small and passionate team. Speed, flexibility, technical excellence and innovation constitute their core values. HGH has established itself as an international reference for infrared technology innovation through the development of multiple advanced thermal sensors, among which its award-winning real-time 360 degree thermal camera, the Spynel-C - 2008 Product of the Year from Photonics Tech Briefs, 2010 Innovation Prize from the EuroNaval Committee, 2011 Kummerman Award from the French Academy of Marine, 2012 GovSec Platinum Award, 2012 Govies Homeland Security Award, and 2014 Best Video Tracking/Wide Area/Long Range Surveillance from Government Security News’ Airport, Seaport, and Border Security Awards Program.

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