Aer Lingus has had six proximity incidents with drones in the last year, according to the airline.
In the wake Sunday’s Heathrow Airport collision between a British Airways plane carrying 132 people and a drone, the Irish airline said today that it has had multiple encounters with the flying consumer devices.
“Aer Lingus can confirm that there have been six incidents to date where our flight crew have seen drones in the proximity of operating aircraft,” said a spokesman for the airline.
“Four sightings occurred in 2015 and two in 2016. Two sightings were close to Dublin Airport and the others occurred outside of Ireland. All sightings are reported to Air Traffic Control and to the Irish Aviation Authority.”
A Ryanair spokesman said that the company has had no proximity incidents with drones over the last year.
However, incidents involving drones accounted for just two safety alerts in the Irish Aviation Authority’s most recent report on the issue.
A spokesman for the IAA declined to comment on Aer Lingus’s claims.
“It is IAA policy not to make public details of individual cases,” said an IAA spokesman. “Penalties for the illegal operation of small unmanned aircraft are entirely a matter for the judiciary following prosecution. Any unauthorised use may be referred to An Garda Siochana for investigation.”
However, a spokesman for An Garda Siochana was unable to say whether there has been any investigation or action taken against drone users in Ireland to date.
“The IAA has engaged with those who have operated drones unsafely and come to our attention, with each case dealt with on an individual basis and evaluated for its potential impact on safety,” said the IAA spokesman.
Meanwhile, Britain’s equivalent to the IAA, the UK Civil Aviation Authority, has published figures showing 23 incidents involving drones within the last six months, with over half amounting to serious “near miss” scenarios.
Last weekend, London police and aviation authorities disclosed that a drone struck a British Airways plane at 1,700ft as it approached Heathrow Airport. The Boeing 727 was carrying 132 people.
Irish pilots have warned that drones are becoming an increasing menace to flight safety in Ireland.
“Incidents of near misses are increasing on weekly and monthly basis,” said Mark Prendergast, an Aer Lingus pilot and spokesman for the Irish Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa).
“Hobbyists are just taking these drones out and flying them around without any real awareness of the regulations or adhering to them. They have no formal training but they’re interacting in airspace where manned aircraft are operating.”
Irish law says that drones cannot be used with 5km of an airport or in any ‘controlled’ airspace. They also may not be used over groups of people or over 400 feet in altitude.
However, pilots say that those guidelines are being openly flouted by amateur drone users and are calling for new regulations.
“They shouldn’t operate above 400ft, but a lot of them do,” said Mr Prendergast. “If we could mandate some form of training for the use of drones, there should be some form of it. We need to make the software in these drones geo-aware or accountable to some form of centralised drone traffic management.”
Ireland is home to drone technology specialists such as Verifly, the startup created by taxi app Hailo co-founder Jay Bregman. Verifly has new technology that allows drone manufacturers and businesses that want to use drones to register and map drones for verification purposes.