Modern airports handle an incredible volume of aviation traffic as air travel becomes cheaper and more widespread. When dealing with hundreds of takeoffs and landings daily, topological hazards, changing weather, mechanical failures and security threats, nothing is more critical for air-traffic control than communication. That is why when communication is compromised, particularly RF communication, at a busy airport, there is no alternative but to drastically scale-down operation until the problem is resolved, at a potential cost of millions of dollars.
RF has many civilian and military uses, which means that there are many potential sources for an interruption (unintended or premeditated) and ensuing chaos when it occurs. Since in most cases problems are reported, not measured, there is a scarcity of data with which to categorize the interference (signal strength, duration, impacted frequencies, etc.). The process of identifying and isolating the source can be painstaking; not all interference is persistent, so by the time monitoring equipment arrives on the scene, the source may have stopped functioning or switched location or frequencies. RF jamming can occur as a result of various activities; some may be nefarious, some are caused by legitimate operation of electronics with conflicting frequencies and some can happen as a result of a malfunction. In order to find and fix the problem, RF monitoring equipment operated by qualified engineers must be deployed to determine the precise frequency and the direction the interruption is coming from. A malfunctioning transceiver on an aircraft that comes and goes can generate interference and disrupt the normal operation of a control tower for months and still go undetected.
Potential Solution: Continuous Monitoring
Some companies have developed equipment for continuous RF monitoring, designed to provide wide-area coverage and provide a constant stream of information on impending and ongoing interferences. While this requires a purchase of expensive equipment, the potential savings in reduced downtime can be significant. By simply picking up on civilian RF jammers, cellular jammers or GPS jammers, such a system can quickly direct operations staff to the root cause of the disruption and save precious time, sharply limiting the financial impact of these interferences.
As both the airwaves and the traffic lanes become more congested, RF interference graduates from being a nuisance to a dire threat. The fragility of RF communication means that finding and neutralizing any source of interference is paramount to the safe operation of an airport. Whether by improving the speed of deployment of an RF monitoring vehicle or investing in a fixed RF monitoring solution, airports must invest in order to preserve the integrity of their communications.