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Foca’s Detect-and-Avoid Dilemma

NZZ today published an article citing a recently released report by the Swiss Accident Investigation Board (Sust) on a near-miss between an A319 and a drone. The vertical distance was 10 m – scary stuff! While this was (likely) an intentional action by an irresponsible individual, we will certainly see more of this soon due to the increasing use of drones for useful purposes.

So how do we prevent such disasters from happening?

A Foca spokesperson was further interviewed in the article. TCAS and transponders are quickly ruled out as being too bulky, too power-hungry, and too expensive. Also, TCAS is a safety-critical system that safes lots of lives, today. Can we really risk to introduce many more transmitters to the same frequency band, thereby potentially reducing the effectiveness of TCAS?

The upcoming traffic management system for drones (called U-Space in Europe) will solve the problem eventually, but there is still a very long way to go: The federated, distributed approach that is currently adopted uses the internet as communication backbone. Robust network access is thus required for all participants of U-Space, which is no small feat for an airliner moving through the air at 150 knots. Federation also means that the overall complexity will be much higher compared to a centralized system to achieve the necessary standards for reliability, availability, and safety.

So what else? FLARM is mentioned as a promising technology, but lacking an open standard. But such a standard exists and can be downloaded here. Unlike other standards for Remote ID, our proposal does not use the 2.4 GHz frequency band that is so densely used and limited in achievable range. Based on our standard, Detect & Avoid and Remote Identification applications can be built that provide the performance needed to protect the crews and passengers in airliners. No need to wait for the future.