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Drones HOT TOPIC


DroneShield’s CEO Oleg Vornik predicts more airports around the world will want to invest in anti-drone technology following the incident at Gatwick in December last year


Heathrow Airport – the UK’s largest airport – had to briefly close one of its runways due to the sighting of a drone. Fortunately, this disruption only lasted for about an hour. While London’s leading airports have borne the brunt of recent drone-related disruption, there have been further short-lived closures of both Newark Liberty International Airport in the US and Dubai International Airport due to drone sightings in the first few weeks of 2019. While both incidents lasted for less than 30 minutes, they still served to show how pressing an issue drones have become. So what’s to be done to mitigate against this risk? Pilots’ associations have been warning for years about the potential dangers of a drone colliding with a commercial aircraft. For example, research by the US Federal


Aviation Administration (FAA) found that the number of drone sightings near McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas doubled in 2018, compared with the previous year. This included a number of “near-miss” incidents, with drones getting dangerously close to aircraft arriving and departing from the airport. Captain Tim Pottage – who chairs a


committee on drones (or remotely piloted aircraft systems, as they are officially known) for UK-based pilots’ union BALPA – says that the Gatwick incident has been “a wake-up call for the government and airlines”. “The impact of the drone attack was no surprise to pilots who have long recognised that safety must come first when it comes to drones, and that can mean grounding flights if there is a danger of collision,” he says.


“Airport operators should be aware of national laws and regulations pertaining to drones, with an understanding that these may reside outside of civil aviation”


“Only days later and more disruption at Heathrow again put the issue on the agenda. The second drone incident in less than a month showed how important it is that airports invest in drone countermeasures immediately.”


Finding solutions


So what has Gatwick done to improve its defences against illegal drone incursions since December’s disruption? Like most airports, it is loathe to give too many details about exactly what anti-drone measures it is taking for “security reasons”. “The airport invested several million pounds to ensure it is equipped to the level provided by the armed forces, and this was in place within days of the main drone incident on December 19 to 21,”says a Gatwick spokesperson. “This new equipment bolsters the existing detection and safety protocols that the airport already had in place, which were effective in ensuring the safety of our airfield and passengers during the incident.” But the airport says it will not “comment


further on the specifics of the anti-drone technology” now in place, though Gatwick adds it is continuing to “work closely” with the UK government, regulators and the industry. To be fair to the British government, it


has acted relatively quickly to give police more powers to tackle illegal drone-related activities near airports including the power to land, seize and search drones. The government is also working on using technology to “detect and repel” drones near airports, and exclusion zones for drones around UK airports have also been extended. “The Gatwick incident has reinforced the fact that it is crucial that our regulatory and enforcement regime keeps pace with rapid technological change,” said UK transport secretary Chris Grayling when he announced tighter drone rules in January. “Lessons have to be learned from what happened at Gatwick. Passengers have to be able to travel without fear of their trips being disrupted by malicious drone use.


routesonline.com ROUTES NEWS 2019 ISSUE 2 89


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