San Francisco International Airport

Margie Shafer/KCBS Radio

To Enhance Airport Security, SFO Seeks Anti-Drone Technology

Megan Goldsby
April 02, 2019 - 10:40 am

About one drone per month shows up in the airspace around San Francisco International Airport.

That's one drone too many for airport officials, and an effort is underway to increase security near the tarmac. 

The airport is set to open up bids as soon as this month for anti-drone security companies to provide drone detection technology in sensitive areas around the airport, according SFO spokesman Doug Yakel. 

The idea is to have a security system up and running by the end of the year to keep away the increasingly popular unmanned flying devices. 

The San Francisco-based company Dedrone is one such company that provides this type of service.

Dedrone founder Jörg Lamprecht told KCBS Radio that the company uses radio frequency technology to spot drones around airports. 

"We're looking for drones with cameras, microphones," Lamprecht said. "We're scanning the air for the codes that drones and operators use to communicate,"

Those sensors can pinpoint the location of not only a drone, but its pilot as well. That enables law enforcement to determine whether that person is a "careless, clueless or criminal," in the words of the Federal Aviation Administration. 

Drones can pose a real risk, according to Lamprecht. "Especially around an airport, everything that flies needs to know what else is flying," he said. "Little drones can cause substantial damage by just crashing into an airplane, getting sucked into an engine. The outcome can be a catastrophe. People can die."

As it turns out, there's not much an airport itself can do to a drone once it is spotted. 

"The FAA clearly deems drones aircraft, so whatever you do to drones is the same that you would do to a 747," Lamprecht said. The bottom line is drones may not be shot out of the sky. 

But SFO's Yakel said the airport has contracted with law enforcement agencies that do have the authority to stop drones from flying in its airspace.

Written by Diana Shook