Promo2 Figure 1 Airport Tower Control

Cleared for Takeoff: Pinning Down RFI Around Airports

April 19, 2021
Large airports rely on wireless signals on a wide range of frequencies, managing thousands of takeoffs and landings each day. Any disruption caused by RF interference can end in disaster.

Large airports rely on a variety of wireless signals distributed across a wide range of frequencies. Successful flights depend on advanced wireless communication systems between the tower and an aircraft, radio navigation systems like radar, and precision landing systems that calculate location data in real-time. Busy airports manage thousands of takeoffs and landings each day with little room for error. Any disruption caused by RF interference can end in disaster.

The Challenge

The proliferation of wireless devices means that interference, whether intentional or accidental, is more common and more difficult to detect. Due to the size of an airport, a single spectrum analyzer doesn’t have the coverage needed to get a reliable view of the spectrum environment.

Users in the control tower need a solution that’s compact, portable, and can be deployed remotely, allowing it to be placed on a vehicle or networked with other analyzers and deployed for continuous monitoring. Traditional spectrum analyzers that are designed for the lab are too large, too expensive, and not designed for this type of monitoring application.

Airports must monitor the wireless spectrum and rapidly detect inadvertent or malicious sources of interference, locate the source, and disable it to mitigate the impact on passenger safety.

The Solution

For such applications, facilities such as airports need a means of monitoring the spectrum with compact, portable instruments that can easily be placed, say, on a truck, for advanced drive tests and/or interference hunting around the property and its environs. One example of this type of instrument, the thinkRF R5550 real-time spectrum analyzer, can capture modern communications signals in complex environments. Further, in this scenario, users must deploy multiple remote and networked instruments to gain a continuous and instantaneous view of the entire airfield.

Advanced triggering capabilities can send an alarm any time a signal is detected outside of a designated threshold and users are immediately notified of any abnormal, unknown, or disruptive signal. By integrating an instrument such as the R5550 analyzer with third-party software, users can conduct in-depth analysis and locate the source of the interference.

The Results

By using multiple networked analyzers, airports get a complete view of the spectrum and can rapidly respond to any potential interference, whether inadvertent or malicious. By leveraging these instruments along with advanced analysis software, airports keep operations running smoothly and always maintain passenger safety.

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