Home Applied Research and Innovation Blog 2018 December 21 Drones and the Future of Passenger Air Security

Drones and the Future of Passenger Air Security

A distinctly 21st-century disruption brought air traffic at London’s Gatwick Airport to a standstill this week. Industrial-style drones seen flying near Gatwick’s single runway prompted officials to halt all landings and takeoffs to avoid a catastrophic collision with an airliner. Local police and British Army snipers were unable to capture or disable the drones, and as of the time of writing, the drone operator had not been apprehended. The day-long shutdown of the airport stranded tens of thousands of travellers during one of the busiest air-travel seasons of the year.

Both the UK and Canada impose stiff penalties – including possible jail time – for operating drones near airports, but these prohibitions have proven difficult to enforce. Recognizing the potential threat posed by rogue operators, Centennial researchers carried out a project to determine the feasibility of remotely disabling drones. Led by Eric Blaise (now Director of Applied Research and Innovation) and Clarence Cheung (now Chair of Sustainable Design and Renewable Energy in the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science), this 2016 project – which was funded by Centennial’s Applied Research and Innovation Fund (ARIF) – showed that while the camera view on a high-end hobbyist drone could be remotely intercepted, encryption on the drone’s actual flight controls made it impossible to “hack”. This internally funded Centennial research illustrates the challenges that governments face in imposing engineering controls on drones.

The ARIF program is run by the Applied Research and Innovation Centre at Centennial, and provides funding for faculty- and staff-led research projects within the College. A parallel program (SRIF) exists for student-led projects. Calls for proposals go out every September and January. For more information, e-mail research@centennialcollege.ca.