Annual Airspace Security Insights Report 2021

White Paper

2021 Annual Airspace Security Insights Report

Introduction and Executive Summary


The acceleration of drone usage has affected key industries in 2020. Explore the top incidents of the year, how industries responded, and what can be done to protect operations from further harm from drones.

Defense & Homeland Security

Key to the success of integrating drones into our airspace is collaboration between regulators, technology providers, and the public that matches the speed of innovation while also addressing and preparing for the emerging security gaps that drones pose to our world’s most sensitive military and defense operations.


Drone-based contraband delivery has been an escalating threat as more drones become available and more criminals look to find ways to circumvent traditional security measures at correctional facilities to deliver high-value goods to inmates.


Airports around the world are bracing for the integration of drones in local airspace. As the world navigates the impacts of COVID-19 on airport operations and passenger travel, the threat of drones is growing.

Critical Infrastructure

Energy facilities, power plants, stadiums, data centers, transportation systems must meet very high security standards. These structures are vital to the functioning of their local economy, and maintaining safety is paramount; however, drones can easily cross any critical infrastructure perimeter and threaten the safety of workers and site operations.

The Airspace Security Insights Report explores

  1. How the acceleration of drone usage in 2020 has affected key industries
  2. Insights on the development of airspace security market and evolution of drone threat response
  3. How security providers can manage their airspace activity and prevent disruption to operations in 2021

Looking Forward

Drones are here to stay and rapidly increasing in both their productive and dangerous applications. Looking forward the numbers of drones flying in the air will only grow. Complete airspace security starts with detection and creating situational awareness of all drone activity – whether from cooperative, legal, and authorized drone pilots or from pilots who are either unaware of or maliciously circumvent drone flight laws. 2020 was a year of tremendous growth in the drone and airspace security market. Turning toward 2021, learn about Dedrone’s 11 predictions around the airspace security for the coming year.


The global airspace security market will continue to advance and meet the needs of security providers to protect people, property, and information. As security providersprotect their operations during the COVID shutdowns, and soon turn their thoughts towards recovery and resuming regular operations, Dedrone remains steadfast and available to continuously monitor and protect the lower airspace at the world’s most critical sites.

Industry Insights

Industry Insights

Defense & Homeland Security

Air Force Base

Drone detection and defense go hand in hand. Drones have been a valued asset for the warfighter and in surveillance. Drone technology is being developed at a rapid pace to fly at longer distances, faster speeds, and with increasing payload capacity. Key to the success of integrating drones into our airspace is collaboration between regulators, technology providers, and the public that matches the speed of innovation, while also addressing and preparing for the emerging security gaps that drones pose to our world’s most sensitive military and defense operations.

Illegal or unidentified drones in government or military airspace will be considered a hostile threat to operations, and prompt immediate action. Airspace security technology is an essential tool for all defense organizations and military installations to assess their airspace activity, understand the severity of drone threats, and develop strategic protocols to defeat unauthorized drones. As the drone threat evolves and advances, so must the airspace security solution that protects our assets.

Major Defense Drone Incidents of 2020

  • Air Force One Nearly Hits Small Drone: As Air Force One, the aircraft carrying the President of the United States, was descending into Andrews Air Force Base, witnesses onboard reported a drone flying remarkably close to the aircraft. The airplane landed safely without incident, and the U.S. Air Force investigated the matter, but have not commented further with their findings.
  • Mysterious Drone Swarm in Colorado Prompts Federal Investigation: Sherriff’s departments in eastern Colorado were bombarded with reports of large drones flying over rural towns and open fields, unnerving residents and prompting a federal investigation.
  • U.S. Department of Defense establishes cUAS strategy group: The U.S. Army-led Joint C-sUAS Office, or JCO, was established in 2020, to create requirements for small UAS detection systems, evaluate detection technology, develop solutions, and ensure the timely and proper fielding of airspace security systems to U.S. forces around the world.

Defense Airspace Security in Action

F.E. Warren Air Force Base

F.E. Warren defends America with the world’s premier combat-ready Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) force. According to F.E. Warren, the Minuteman III missiles are deployed over a 9,600 square-mile area spanning Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado, and are on full alert 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Due to security concerns, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration bans the operation of private, civil and commercial drones on or over 133 U.S. military facilities, including F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Any unauthorized drone in the area could be considered a threat, which is why F.E. Warren has integrated a complete airspace security program, providing early warning and classification of any drone activity.


Drone detection at correctional facilities

Drone-based contraband delivery has been an escalating threat as more drones become available and more criminals look to find ways to circumvent traditional security measures at correctional facilities to deliver high-value goods to inmates. In addition to the threat of drones at correctional facilities remained top of mind for security teams, this past year brought unprecedented challenges to correctional operations and how prisons manage their population and security amid a global pandemic.

Correctional facility airspace remains completely exposed and open for drones to deliver drugs, weapons, cell phones and other dangerous materials – and with this being perhaps the only point of entry for criminals to penetrate a correctional facility, counter-drone programs are becoming an increasingly urgent technology.

Major Corrections Drone Incidents of 2020

  • Mississippi Department of Corrections: In September 2020, Mississippi Department of Corrections officials revealed that two men carried marijuana, a cell phone and charger, headphones and several cigarette lighters on a drone and tried to get the material over the prison’s fences. Instead, the drone got stuck in security nets above the facility’s razor wire fences, and the plot failed. (NBC Jackson, MS)
  • Alabama Department of Corrections: Attempts to smuggle contraband into Alabama prisons have risen during COVID-19 pandemic, according to Alabama Department of Corrections. In a report on the thriving contraband market at Alabama correctional facilities, the New York Times shares how cellphones delivered by drones are being used by inmates to commit further crimes, while they are imprisoned. “Our borders are porous,” shares Jeff Dunn, the state corrections commissioner.

Corrections Airspace Security in Action

Kentucky Department of Corrections

At correctional facilities, drone detection technology can be seamlessly incorporated into an existing security ecosystem. Kentucky Department of Corrections has deployed airspace security technology to detect drones before they enter their airspace. Automated reporting systems allow KDOC security teams to use flight data to determine if a single drone has visited the area multiple times or if there are multiple, individual intruders, and record if there are certain days or times where there are an increase in incidents. This data is invaluable when looking to identify and prosecute pilots who violate federal laws.


Drone detection technology at airports

Airports around the world are bracing for the integration of drones in local airspace. There have been hits and misses with drones at airports, with many news stories about drones entering airport airspace and disrupting operations. Regulatory agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), Transport Canada, European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) guide drone pilots about when and where they can legally and safely fly. However, if regulatory guidance is ignored, either unintentionally or maliciously, then the burden of detecting drones and protecting airport operations squarely falls on the airport security team’s shoulders. Each of these organizations are working aggressively to create drone safety guidelines for airports, but they still remain in varied states of completion and enforcement.

As the world navigates the impacts of COVID-19 on airport operations and passenger travel, the threat of drones is growing. Establishing a baseline assessment of airspace activity, while traffic is lowest, will enable airport security staff to establish how they can integrate counter-drone technology to be a part of a safe path back to normal operations. The challenge of drones at airports is complex and unique and will continually evolve as more drones come to market, regulations, and laws advance, and more passengers return to airports. Airspace security programs provide airports with the flexibility to quickly begin their airspace assessment and then scale to meet the threat.

Major Airports Drone Incidents of 2020

  • Madrid Airport Shutdown: In February, Madrid’s Adolfo Su.rez-Barajas international airport was closed for over one hour due to an unknown drone in the shared airspace, diverting 26 flights. A security committee was set up to investigate the incident, but no arrests or further action has been announced. During the shutdown, ENAIRE, Spain’s air navigation authority, reminded the public, “A drone is not a toy, it’s an aircraft.”
  • Frankfurt Airport Stalled by Drone: Drone incidents at German airports have been increasing over the past three years, with the country’s air traffic control group DFS logging 158 disruptions in 2018, compared to 88 in 2017. In March 2020, a drone appeared in the airport’s airspace, prompting authorities to shut down the airport for one hour, resulting in 70 cancelled flights and

Airport Airspace Security in Action

Newcastle International Airport

During 2019, Newcastle Airport welcomed over 5 million passengers. With the Gatwick Airport shutdown of 2018, Newcastle Airport understood that it must advance its operations to meet one of today’s most pressing airport safety and security challenges, ensuring a safe environment for aircraft and passengers alike. Newcastle Airport sought to prevent any drone incursions and ensure plans to grow its global footprint were not disrupted by unwanted airspace activity. With drone detection technology, Newcastle Airport now has a clear understanding of drone activity surrounding its airfield including the average flight time, frequent times of the day when drones appear, and information to locate drones. Newcastle Airport now has the visibility to detect drones and therefore build a comprehensive set of response protocols to safeguard its passengers from this emerging threat.

Critical Infrastructure

CUAS at power plants

Critical infrastructure facilities, from data centers, chemical and energy plants, transportation systems, stadiums and others, must meet very high security standards. These structures are vital to the functioning of their local economy, and maintaining safe operations is paramount. Drones can cross any critical infrastructure perimeter. They are capable of identifying and following targets and can use cameras to spy on operations. Critical infrastructure facilities without knowledge of drone activity in their airspace may open a dragnet of new security issues, including:

  • Scouting existing security systems, including the number staff coming and going
  • Taking aerial images of facilities under construction, that allow to derive floorplans, IT sensitive areas and power lines
  • Identifying customers, personnel, and suppliers
  • Crashing into or destroying external technical components
  • Interfering with detectors, compromising air conditioning/cooling systems
  • Compromising employee privacy

Major Critical Infrastructure Drone Incidents of 2020

  • Drone swarms visit America’s most sensitive nuclear site: A series of small drones flew around a restricted area at Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant on two successive nights in September 2019. Palo Verde joins a long line of power facilities that have been plagued by illegal drones. Although no damage was reported at Palo Verde, open questions remain about who the drones belonged to, why they were flying, and what information they gathered.
  • Major League Baseball Drone Delays: Open air stadiums around the world shut their doors to spectators during the COVID shutdowns, but their airspace remained open and exposed to drone onlookers. On multiple occasions in the 2020 Major League Baseball season, drones appeared in the airspace, prompting game delays.

Critical Infrastructure Airspace Security in Action

Neptune Terminals

Located in Port of Vancouver, Neptune Terminals plays a crucial role in the global economy as one of the largest distributors of Canadian products, including steelmaking coal and potash, to global markets. Unauthorized drones at Neptune Terminals pose a risk to the physical safety of workers and the security of operations, and increase the possibility of facility damage. As a result of taking the first step to secure their airspace, Neptune Terminals confirmed the level of drone activity in their airspace. With a baseline of airspace activity data, Neptune Terminals can identify patterns in drone activity and help prioritize a more robust drone detection solution. Neptune Terminals’ data-driven approach has allowed them to work with operation and security leadership to establish immediate and long-term airspace security protocols. As they collect more data, their vulnerability to drones will continue to reveal itself, allowing them to make data-driven decisions, develop a complete counter-drone technology strategy, expand their current capabilities, and increase safety and security for their employees and operations.

Looking Forward

Looking Forward

Shifting Mindset from Pure Counter-Drone Technology to Complete Airspace Security

In 2020, COVID shutdowns accelerated use-cases for drones, and with more drones in the skies, come more exposed vulnerabilities. Drones have always been able to go where you cannot go yourself. This was the truth before COVID, and it is accentuated even more now.

Cities of the future will require complete airspace awareness on their drone activity. As unmanned traffic management systems, including Remote ID programs, are being developed and deployed globally, security providers will need to integrate complete airspace awareness programs to understand the true nature of drone activity.

Organizations using drones must be aware of how to identifythe drones that are a part of their program (eg: deliveries, authorized surveillance, etc.), ensure compliance with local, state, or federal laws, and expose an unauthorized or hostile drone in their area. With the growth of the drone market and the increased savviness of drone pilots, government and private organizations need to shift their mindset from focusing purely on the counter-drone technology, to what they truly need to achieve complete airspace security.

Complete airspace security starts with situational awareness of your drone activity and builds upon this foundation of knowledge. From there, this data is operationalized and integrated into an existing security infrastructure.

  1. Identify and locate all drone activity in your airspace
  2. Integrate airspace security protocols into existing SOPs
  3. Train security teams to respond appropriately
  4. Take steps to prevent future incursions

Airspace Security Integration with Government Drone Registration and Management

There are laws and regulations being developed across the world that promote the safe integration of drones into our airspace. Today, many central government departments and agencies are actively addressing how drones are an immediate help to many part of society while also being a potential threat to safety.

Among the top issues to follow in 2021, will be the implementation of government-managed drone registration and lower airspace traffic management. Central governments are responsible for creating and managing a comprehensive unmanned traffic management framework, which will be the backbone of monitoring lower airspace activity. With drone detection systems, organizations like the United States’ FAA can quantify drone traffic, whether it is authorized or non-compliant, and ensure compliance with FAA drone registration programs, such as Remote ID.

In 2020, The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) and the Swiss U-Space Implementation project (SUSI) have launched the very first nationwide system of Remote ID, one of the cornerstones of a robust Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system. More Remote ID programs will follow in 2021, urging the need for complete airspace security and situational awareness at critical infrastructure sites.

RemoteID detection by Dedrone
RemoteID detection

Predictions 2021

Airspace Security Market Predictions 2021

As security leaders consider their airspace security needs for 2021 and observe this growing threat of uncooperative or malicious drones, they should keep top of mind these 11 trends that will take front and center in the coming months.

1. Drone usage will continue to rise exponentially, pushed by the impacts of COVID

Drones are coming to work in increasing numbers. Facility security leaders are looking to use drones to prevent more workers from coming onsite – putting drones to work for inspection, delivery, surveillance. These numbers of drones coming to work will only increase exponentially and will become a permanent fixture for organizations moving forward.

2. Increase of disrupted events at airports, stadiums, and other open-air facilities

Drone disruptions aren’t new, but more people are realizing how easy it is to cause damage and harm to a facility, and how impactful these drone events are to a business’ reputation. Drones may appear as a part of a broader exploitation plan – check out the site before entering it to identify vulnerabilities. As more open-air facilities remain closed due to COVID shutdowns, and return to normal operations, onlookers will want to take the view into their own hands, such as the drone pilots who shut down Major League Baseball games in 2020.

3. Drone blackmail will be added as a new security threat

Paparazzi chased down celebrities with drones in 2020, and angry neighbors around the world worked with local law enforcement to build frameworks to protect their privacy from drone onlookers. Airspace security protects organizations from drone threats, and an emerging threat in 2021 will be drone-based blackmail. Bad actors are beginning to understand the costs associated with downtime at a critical infrastructure site – airlines who cancelled flights during the Gatwick shutdown reported nearly $64.5m losses when a wayward drone halted airport operations for two days in 2018.

4. Significant decrease in the overreliance of DJI

DJI drones remain the consumer market leader for drone technology and have been joined by legions of drone manufacturers vying to take the #1 spot. Combined with market dilution, and increased efforts by the U.S. Government to limit or prohibit Chinese made drones from being used by federal agencies and the military, 2021 will highlight an increase in the diversity of the types of commercial and consumer drones used and effect the technology required to detect drones. Airspace security technology must adapt to detect a variety of drones, and not be limited to a single manufacturer.

5. Local governments will pioneer drone integration and response infrastructure

Cities will begin to think about how to monetize their airspace and integrate drone detection at the local level. In the U.S. the FAA established seven regional UAS testing sites, dedicated to researching and testing UAS operations such as long-range drone delivery, detect and avoid technology, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations, counterdrone tech and UAS Traffic Management (UTM), among other drone programs. Especially as cities begin to understand their airspace activity, they will be the pioneers to developing new programs to respond to local drone threats and explore more opportunities to integrate drones as a part of their local infrastructure.

6. More government cUAS technology requirements and testing standards will be formalized and executed

Central governments have created departments dedicated to the study and integration of drones in their national infrastructure, and in 2021, more governments will take their years of counter-drone market research and formalize their needs and standards for purchasing and integrating counter-drone technology, and how it will be used for national security and anti-terrorism. Leading the charge is the U.K.’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), who was the first central government program that vigorously testing different cUAS platforms to identify leading technologies and accelerate mass procurement and adoption.

7. Counter-drone technologymarket consolidation

The airspace security market is narrowing down and consolidating between vendors. Counter-drone platforms that have open systems, and integrate multiple technologies, will be open for more opportunities than single-service or single-technology providers.

8. Drones getting stronger,faster and flying together

As drone technology continues to advance, airspace security programs will need to increase not only the scope of types of consumer and commercial drones to detect, but also ensure that drone swarms can be detected as reliably as a single drone. Especially for defense organizations, the smaller threat could be a single drone, but terrorists, criminals and other bad actors will challenge drone detection systems by evading detection either through developing technology difficult to detect, or flying multiple drones in a single instance, such as what was observed at the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, or the “mysterious drone swarm” in Colorado, which prompted months of speculation and investigation, but no answers.

9. Government programs for Remote Identification will advance, slowly, but surely

Remote Identification programs are being developed in multiple countries, designed to facilitate the collection and storage of certain drone data such as identity, location, and altitude. Aviation authorities understand the need to integrate an identification program for drone users, and have been slow to adopt standards. In 2021, the first Remote ID programs will be launched, and more counter-drone technology programs will be sought to integrate into government systems to provide a complete view of both authorized and unauthorized drone activity.

10. Defeating drone threats will not look the same

When it comes to defeating drones, there are certain kinetic solutions which will hard kill the drone, and non-kinetic technologies which will disable or override the drone flight. Defeat systems are still evolving as legislation changes and more organizations become authorized to interdict drones. In 2021, there will be a greater need for more precision electronic warfare attacks that reduce collateral damage. As the drone market changes in 2021, defeat technologies will need to integrate into larger detection systems that can detect a variety of small drones, whether they are commercially available or homebrew. The threat may look different, but when it comes to defeating the drone, security providers will first need to identify, classify, and then deploy a countermeasure.

11. Advancing homeland security research and legislation

As the counter-drone market matures, more researchers and analysts are entering the conversation and providing analysis on the growth and predictions of mass adoption in the next 10-15 years. Laws on cUAS technology are evolving country by country, state by state, city by city. With more researchers, lobbyists and market watchers, 2021 will be the most active year in terms of research and legislation development.


Conclusion: Entering the Next Era of Airspace Security

The recent and continued exponential increase in drone traffic is leading to a higher risk of airspace incidents, as well as unprecedented levels of opportunistic behavior. In order to address airspace risk, organizations first need to understand drone activity above and near their facility. With this baseline information, security leaders will know what technology and operating procedures they will need to protect their organization against.

Dedrone helps our customers on their journey to understand their airspace risk providing tools to address and mitigate their specific threat from the misuse of drones. The aim of a complete airspace security program is to use standard security and defense procedures and expand to include lower airspace events.

Organizations around the globe are growing their airspace security programs, and there remains a greater need for a robust air traffic management system that integrates information from drone pilots who are cooperating with local and federal laws and regulations but also includes counter-drone technology data to capture uncooperative or malicious drone activity.

As our global customers look to protect their operations from drones during the COVID shutdowns, and soon turn their thoughts towards recovery and resuming regular operations, Dedrone remains steadfast and available to continuously monitor and protect the lower airspace at the world’s most critical sites.

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