Drone Electronic Conspicuity and Why it Matters

Electronic Conspicuity (EC) is one of the hot topics in the drone world right now.  Put simply, it’s an umbrella term for technology that allows an aircraft’s position to be communicated to aircraft and other relevant authorities.  As the demands on our airspace increase, EC is seen by many as the key that unlocks safer sharing of this limited resource.

There are three main systems currently in operation

  • Mode Sierra (Mode S) – used by large aircraft
  • FLARM – largely used by the glider community
  • ADS-B – Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast.  This system is used throughout general aviation

ADS-B is the system that is most likely to be adopted by the drone community.  It uses a Global Positioning System to identify aircraft location and it’s a very accurate system.

There are two types of ADS-B system

ADS-B In – a receiver that is able to receive and display the other users of the ADS-B System.  The latest in DJI Enterprise products already incorporate this technology.

ADS-B In and Out – This not only receives the data from other ADS-B users but transmits the aircraft’s position.

There have already been successful trials of drones carrying the ADS-B In and Out system including Project Zenith around Manchester Airport.  The increased information sharing was hailed as extremely useful and could be seen as a way of creating a blueprint for safe airspace sharing.

Of course, ADS-B doesn’t solve all of the traffic control problems.  Not all aircraft use this system and, in the case of low flying military aircraft, they may be flying too fast for signals to be acquired and transmitted.  Pilot vigilance, risk assessment and safe practices will always be of paramount importance.

Whilst there have been concerns raised by certain corners o the drone community regarding ADS-B operation like ‘Big Brother’, the benefits of such a system are clear to most.  Successful implementation of such a system could go a long way to creating a safe and secure airspace environment which would pave the way for the drone industry to reach its full economic potential.