According to the European Aviation Safety Organization EASA, unwanted drone flights are increasingly occurring near airports, often as a result of ignorance, but possibly also on purpose. In view of the possible impact of such incidents, EASA has published guidelines regarding the handling of drone incidents at airports.
EASA publishes guidelines for handling drone incidents at airports
In the past few years, drones have been regularly reported in the vicinity of airports in several European Member States. In quite a few cases, air traffic even had to be stopped. The most infamous example is the days-long closure of Gatwick Airport in late 2018 (although no evidence has ever been provided that drones actually flew around). But there are also examples of other major airports that had to be temporarily locked after reports of drones came in, including those from Frankfurt, Madrid and Riga.
According to EASA, unwanted drones at airports are often the result of ignorance on the part of their drivers. There are also examples of reckless drone pilots who let their drones fly way too high or deliberately ignore the no-fly zones around airports. There is also the possibility that activists or terrorists will deliberately fly drones around airports. And finally, a runaway drone belonging to a legitimate operator can also pose a security risk.
Admittedly, the new European regulations for drones must ensure fewer incidents, because most drone pilots now have to take an exam and in the future drones will be equipped with new geofencing systems and a facility to remotely see who a particular drone is (Remote ID for Drones), but even then, according to EASA, it is a growing problem.
The problem is, a drone flying around an airport can’t just create a security problem. The temporary suspension of air traffic is also very costly, and may have far-reaching consequences for travelers who are delayed. It is therefore important that airport managers prepare well for various scenarios involving unwanted drones.
“The core problem here is that these activities are not authorized and therefore, by definition, take place in ignorance or evasion of the rules for safe drone operations,” said Patrick Ky, director of EASA. “Our goal is to help airport operators prepare for such incidents and take appropriate action when they occur, to minimize the extent of the disruption while ensuring aviation remains safe.”
The “Drone Incident Management at Aerodromes” manual is focused on all European airports (currently more than 500) and other stakeholders, such as air traffic control and airlines. The idea is that the guide is also relevant for small airports, which do not have the resources to install comprehensive detection systems such as those currently being tested and deployed at larger airports.
The document is split into three parts, but only the first part is publicly available. It describes the challenges and increases awareness for the problem. The other parts are specifically intended for parties involved in the management of incidents and are not disseminated to a wide audience due to the sensitivity of the subject.
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