Northwest Florida’s new Drone and Bird Detection may lead to national use

ECP area map
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Florida Airport Adopts Dual-Function Radar for Drones and Birds

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport

 ECP installs DeTect Bird/Drone Radar

 Promise for FAA and other Airports

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) is a public airport 18 miles northwest of Panama City, in Bay County. The airport is owned by the Panama City-Bay County Airport & Industrial District, and is north of Panama City Beach, Florida.

ECP in connection with DeTect has installed a dual-function radar for both unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and birds.


DeTect, a local technology firm, specializes in advanced radar and other sensor technologies. The company is the leader in bird radar technologies for real-time aircraft bird strike avoidance, wind energy bird mortality risk assessment and mitigation with over 180 of its MERLIN bird radars operating in the US, Canada, Europe, Africa and Asia. The unique radar signal processing technology in MERLIN, developed specifically for reliable detection and tracking of small, non-cooperative, low radar-cross section, non-linearly moving targets. When combined with MERLIN aircraft bird strike avoidance radar and DroneWatcher drone detection and defense system, comprehension coverage is attained.


According to the company, the DroneWatcher DSR provides real-time alerts to airport flight safety managers of potential danger. Drone incursion alerts and bird strike risk alerts are provided to users through both custom Web displays and automated text messaging.

DeTect claims that ECP is now the first commercial airport in the world to install a dual bird/UAS detection radar system.

It is important to note that this system is owned and operated by Panama City-Bay County Airport & Industrial District and not the FAA. To be included in the Air Traffic Control Tower, it would have to be certificated by the federal agency.

Lake St. Mark

It is also notable that the Panama City-Bay County Airport & Industrial District has installed this very advanced bird and drone detection. Given that the NW quadrant of Florida has a number of National Wildlife Refuges, that ECP is surrounded by water which may well attract many water fowl and that the area is known for its beaches and lagoons.

ECP area map

While drones may not pose a substantial threat to ECP, the detection of “all of small, non-cooperative, low radar-cross section, non-linearly moving targets “ should provide useful demonstration of the system’s ability to see UASs.

The ECP initiative should be closely followed.

  • Its location near waterfowl is not unique; so, if other airports (JFK, LGA, HNL, etc.) might be interest. Wildlife Hazards constitute a problem for airports; the FAA, the industry and individual airports have devoted time and money to mitigate this risk. If MERLIN and DroneWatcher prove to be effective, other airports will be interested.


  • It will be particularly notable to see how the ECP-owned equipment’s bird information is transmitted to and used by the FAA.
    • What is the procedure for getting the threat to the tower?
    • What weight do the controllers give to this information from ECP?
  • If the MERLIN and DroneWatcher performance is found to be effective and reliable, will DeTect take the steps to have the FAA certificate this equipment for other towers?
  • birds around planebird ingest

The ingestion of birds by aircraft and the collision with fuselage are matters of great concern to aviation. The DeTect system poses great potential for use at multiple airports to identify living and inanimate threats.






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