Safe Drone Flight

Investigating the security of flight surveillance systems

  • Partnership with the Open University funded by the SESAR JU through the Engage Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN)
  • Engage KTN
  • Project timeline:
    July 2020 - July 2021

NATS worked with the Open University on the Safe Drone Flight (SDF) project, investigating the security of flight surveillance systems. The research considered how real-time telemetry data sent from insecure sources could be guaranteed, and the feasibility of using this data to develop a safety assured and cyber secure surveillance system to support safe, efficient, and secure access to airspace for large numbers of drones.

Managing air traffic and assuring its safety and security as our airspace environment moves towards one with a mixture of crewed and uncrewed airspace users, requires drone telemetry data to have a high level of integrity.

NATS’ primary focus is ensuring the safety of all airspace users. To achieve this, building an accurate picture of the airspace using safety-critical and related data, including location-based data, is essential.

In a conventional, crewed aviation scenario, this data would typically be sourced from NATS’ primary and secondary radar surveillance networks. By contrast, in a typical drone-based scenario, Air Navigation Service Providers may not have the capability to survey and locate small uncrewed aircraft and may need to source this data from distributed, unverified sources, such as the drones themselves. This raises the challenge of assuring that the incoming data is secure and that it hasn’t been maliciously or unwittingly changed, across a variety of scenarios.

In the SDF project, we found ways to mitigate vulnerabilities within traffic management systems and improve the overall security of global communications, navigation, and surveillance systems. Our research matured a prototype blockchain-based drone surveillance system taking a scenario-based approach to simulate several drone operations and validate the suitability of the proposed solution. Cyber security and safety assurance related strands of research were conducted to determine data integrity-related design and performance requirements on future drone flight surveillance systems respectively.

The SESAR Engage KTN catalyst funding enabled engagement, knowledge exchange, and collaborative research between the ATM industry member (NATS) and the academic member (OU).

This project has received funding from the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 783287. The opinions expressed herein reflect the authors’ view only. Under no circumstances shall the SESAR Joint Undertaking be responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

Potential benefits

Enhanced safety

Enhanced security

Increased airspace access

Improved environment

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