Successful field trial: Drone defence at Hamburg Airport

The FALKE (falcon) project focusses on developing the capability to intercept small aircraft entering restricted airspace using civilian means. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) to the tune of EUR 2.1 million, the project aims to develop an overall concept for the defence against illegally operated drones (unmanned aircraft systems - UAS) using Hamburg Airport as a testing ground. This overall concept is intended to provide automated and standardised solutions so that it can also be used as a blueprint for other airports, while taking different areas of competence and responsibility into account. The leader of the consortium behind the project is the Helmut Schmidt University (HSU) / University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg.

23.09.2021.- From 21 to 23 September 2021, the first field trial to intercept drones that entered the control zone illegally took place at Hamburg Airport. The eight parties involved in the consortium demonstrated the current state of research and tested the interaction of various components.

German Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer: "We plan to bring the drone technology developed in Germany safely to the skies, to transport vital medical supplies, to support the rescue services or to inspect industrial facilities to name but a few examples. To this end, we have introduced a new law, which will enable innovation and new business areas. At the same time, we are creating a high level of safety for people, airspace and the natural environment. However, not everyone complies with the law. That is why we have to keep an eye on potential risks, as with any new technology. This requires innovative technical solutions. The FALKE project, which we are supporting, effectively protects airports from illegally operating drones. This was impressively proven by the first field trial.” Aim of the funding project: In the future, the technology is to be used nationwide as a blueprint to defend against drones at airports.

"Our main task was to define, implement and standardise data interfaces and data protocols so that different subsystems of the various partners involved at the airport can be coupled. The systems in question include the air situation data from air traffic control radar, verification systems and defence systems. The field test has shown that we are well on the way to developing a market-ready product," explained Professor Dr.-Ing. Gerd Scholl (Chair of Electrical Measurement Technology at HSU), who heads the consortium.

In addition to leading the project, his department is developing the artificial intelligence that enables the automated interception of an unauthorised drone by an interceptor UAS, the so-called “dog-fight”, in the first place. 

Even though all processes are highly automated, the overall system is specifically designed in such a way that humans can always intervene in a controlling and corrective manner in unforeseeable situations.

Project partners are the Federal Police, DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Flughafen Hamburg GmbH, Frequentis Comsoft GmbH, Hensoldt Avionics GmbH and Hensoldt Sensors GmbH.

The Ministry for Economics and Innovation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (BWI) and the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism of the Ministry of Justice and Security of the Netherlands (NTCV) are also involved.

In principle, the police forces of the German Federal States are primarily responsible for defending against specific threats. At the 13 airports where the Federal Police performs aviation security tasks, it is responsible for averting threats to the security of air traffic, in particular by monitoring the entire airport site and taking protective measures for particularly vulnerable flights and air carriers. This includes drone defence in the security restricted area of airports.

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German air navigation service provider, is a State-owned company under private law with 5,600 employees. DFS ensures the safe and punctual flow of air traffic over Germany. Since 2016, DFS has been working on the integration of drones into air traffic. The traffic management system (UTM) for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) developed by DFS combines information from manned and unmanned aviation. The air situation obtained in this way forms the basis for safe drone flight. In the FALKE project, it is the task of DFS to cross-check authorised and non-authorised drones.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG is contributing analyses of the risk posed by drones to civil air traffic. The aim is to have the drone defence technology precisely targeted to the actual risk. Practical flying experience is also taken into account in order to enable optimal finetuning. Furthermore, Lufthansa is providing input for the cost-benefit assessment and serves as an interface to the aviation industry.

Flughafen Hamburg GmbH is making its site available for field tests as part of the project. Thanks to this, the drone interception process can be tested under the most realistic conditions possible in a complex test environment: from the detection of the drone to the verification as a potential threat to the final interception. The project findings are to be used to further minimise the risks arising from drones in the area of responsibility of an airport operator in the future.

Frequentis Comsoft GmbH is part of the Frequentis Group, a globally very successful group in the field of safety-critical information and communication systems with its headquarters in Vienna and numerous subsidiaries worldwide. With 30 years of experience in the field of Air Traffic Management (ATM), Frequentis Comsoft is a specialist in the processing and communication of surveillance and radar data. The company's product portfolio covers the entire surveillance and radar data processing chain. It is precisely this expertise that the Frequentis Group contributes to the FALKE project.

HENSOLDT Avionics GmbH (formerly EUROAVIONICS GmbH) is an internationally active manufacturer of situational awareness and mission management systems that can be linked to various avionics devices and third-party sensors. The product range also includes industrial multicopters and autopilots/flight computers for UAS as well as associated command and control units. The high-end products are characterised by flexibility and modularity and cover a wide range of application areas and customer groups. With over 25 years of experience in the aviation industry and numerous certified products, HENSOLDT Avionics is a reliable partner in the field of aviation security. HENSOLDT Sensors GmbH is one of the market leaders in the field of civil and military sensor solutions. Both belong to HENSOLDT AG, a leading supplier of radars, optronic devices and electronic warfare systems.

Further information
Digital press information (German only) https://www.hsu-hh.de/presse/pressemappe-projekt-falke

Scientific contact
Univ. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerd Scholl, Chair of Electrical Measurement Technology,

telephone +49 (0)40 6541-3341,
E-mail gerd.scholl@hsu-hh.de

Media contact
Press Office, Dietmar Strey,
telephone +49 (0)40 6541-2774,
E-mail pressestelle@hsu-hh.de