Saturday 21 April 2018

Drones threaten safety at Irish airports, say pilots

A drone in flight Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
A drone in flight Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Drones are becoming a growing threat to airport safety in Ireland and have already caused two serious incidents, according to new figures from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

A day after a British Airways plane carrying 132 people was struck by a drone as it approached Heathrow Airport, the Irish air industry regulator revealed two safety incidents recently where drones affected aircraft or airport safety, as well as a further 13 unidentified runway incursions.

Irish pilots are now warning that the rise of drone use here is creating a "grey space" in aviation training where lives could be at risk.

"Incidents of near-misses are increasing on a weekly and monthly basis," said Mark Prendergast, an Aer Lingus pilot and spokesman for the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA).

He added: "Our training might be inadequate as we're now operating in a grey space."

British police said that no one was injured in the British Airways drone collision, but the incident has reignited fears of hobbyists jeopardising passenger safety using consumer drones from high-street shops.

"Hobbyists are just taking these drones out and flying them around without any real awareness of the regulations or adhering to them," said Mr Prendergast. "They have no formal training but they're interacting in airspace where manned aircraft are operating."

The Irish Aviation Authority says that more than 4,000 drones have been registered in Ireland since December of last year, but declined to say how many drones are currently in operation here. Some estimates put the number of drones here at up to 10,000.

The IAA also declined to give any further details on the safety incidents recorded or on the number of complaints it has received in relation to drones. A spokesman said it was IAA policy not to comment on individual cases.

Irish law says drones cannot be used within 5km of an airport or in any 'controlled' airspace. Nor may they be used over groups of people or over 400ft 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 these drones accountable to some form of traffic management."

Irish Independent

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