Drones have slowly worked their way from military use to an everyday consumer product. They have been used for nature photography, weddings, TV shows, films, and countless other areas of everyday life. One place where drones do not fit in the average person’s world is the airport. Aviation chiefs have been scrambling to rethink their approach to security thanks to the threat posed by drones after a costly and humiliating shutdown of London’s Gatwick airport.
Britain’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says, “This kind of incident is unprecedented anywhere in the world, the disruption of an airport in this way. We’re going to have to learn very quickly from what’s happened.” All flights were suspended once again at Gatwick airport, hours after having been reopened following the first unmanned drone sightings which caused extensive chaos, leaving thousands of passengers stranded for up to three days.
But this isn’t the first time drones have caused disruptions at airports. In 2016, the Dubai International Airport closed three times due to drones flying nearby which delayed and rerouted flights, costing millions of dollars. And in February of 2016, an Airbus A320 flying the Barcelona-Paris route reported a close call with a drone at 1,600 altitude as it approached Charles de Gaulle airport.
Drones pose a threat in several different capacities. Mainly, officials fear that a drone could crash into a passenger plane or get sucked up into an engine. Drones have lithium batteries which are highly flammable, so any kind of collision could result in a catastrophe.
“These events obviously highlight a wider strategic challenge for aviation in this country which we need to address together with speed—the aviation industry, government, and all the other relevant authorities,” says Gatwick’s Chief Executive Stewart Wingate. The European Aviation Safety Agency logged more than 1,400 drone incidents throughout Europe in 2016, which was up from 606 between 2011 and 2015.
EU-wide drone regulations were approved by deputies in the European Parliament, but they still require formal approval from European ministers before taking effect. Until then, individual member states must set their own rules regarding drone use.
Lucas Le Bell, founder of the start-up Cerbair that specializes in handling drone problems, says, “Finding high-tech solutions to the drone threat in airport presents particular challenges.” High noise levels, security requirements, and saturated communication make drone detection that much harder. Le Bell’s team is working on isolating frequencies used in the control of drones, so not only can they detect and locate the devices, but eventually they could take control of them.
At other airports, a low-tech solution has been implemented with varying results. The Mont-de Marsan airbase in France has trained golden eagles to search and destroy intruders. While this seems like a far-fetched idea, it has had its successes. With that said, the system still needs work as one of the eagles attacked a girl after mistaking her vest for a target.
Drone detection is quickly becoming a necessity for public safety. Drones can protect, but they also need to be regulated so that innocent people don’t become targets.
Filed Under: Product design