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€1m costs, burning extra fuel and flight delays – how have drones disrupted Dublin Airport?

Fewer than 6,700 drone operators in Ireland are licensed but many households now have the inexpensive tech


Dublin Airport - unscheduled runway closures can cost as much as €1m an hour. Photo: Jason Alden

Dublin Airport - unscheduled runway closures can cost as much as €1m an hour. Photo: Jason Alden

Dublin Airport - unscheduled runway closures can cost as much as €1m an hour. Photo: Jason Alden

ILLEGAL drone activity at Dublin Airport over the past number of days is likely to have cost the industry well over €1m. If not stopped the cost of disruptions can quickly multiply as planes have to be diverted, burning extra fuel, and delays pile on staff costs.

Airport operations at the capital’s international gateway were suspended for 40 minutes on Monday and were also suspended over the weekend after unauthorised drone activity was detected near the airfield.

In Ireland, any person operating a drone weighing more than 250g, or which has a camera, must under the law register as an operator.

The Irish Aviation Authority notes in its new safety plan for 2023 to 2025 that just under 6,700 drone operators in Ireland are licensed. That’s despite the huge popularity of drones both for recreational and professional use.

The DAA has described the flying of drones near the airport as “reckless”. It urged drone owners to adhere to strict regulations on the operation of drones to avoid a repeat of the weekend disruption.

It is illegal to operate a drone within 5km of an airfield, but in practice policing that vast area is an epic challenge. The five kilometres radius of Dublin Airport is a densely-populated 79 sq km area including major urban centres such as Ballymun, Swords, Santry and Finglas. It includes the kinds of beaches and parks where it has become commonplace to see amateur drone enthusiasts, including children, enjoying what for many is a popular hobby unaware of the higher stakes.

Dublin Airport itself – operated by the DAA - has a drone detection system in place, while pilots and air traffic controllers also play a key role in identifying local drone activity.

“The drone detection system in place at Dublin Airport, working in tandem with input from airline pilots, ground crew and Air Traffic Control, provides a robust monitoring system which allows for a safe and timely response to these incidents to allow us to focus on our top priorities, safety and security,” said a DAA spokesman.

Carriers including Aer Lingus and Ryanair – Dublin Airport’s two largest customers – have been forced to divert a small number of flights as a result of the illegal drone activity.

The additional fuel and other costs will probably have run to tens of thousands of euro. Aer Lingus said it had to divert two services on Saturday afternoon – one flight from Paris was diverted to Shannon, while one from Manchester was diverted to Belfast International Airport. They later continued their journeys to Dublin.

Ryanair had to divert four flights on Friday, four on Saturday and five on Monday. It said it’s “unacceptable” that thousands of passengers were delayed and called for immediate action from the government.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has noted that the unscheduled closure of a runway can cost airports as much as €1m every hour.

In December 2018, a drone being flown around Gatwick Airport outside London caused the facility to be closed for two days, with hundreds of flights cancelled. The person who operated the drone was never found, despite a police investigation.

EASA said that the Gatwick incident is estimated to have cost the aviation industry €64m.

The agency noted that such drone incidents at airports can cause “severe economic cost to airports and airlines”.

“For the 10 largest European airports, the delay cost of a 30-minute runway closure is estimated to range from €325,000 to €514,000,” according to EASA. “This represents a real burden for the industry, particularly as the number of incidents has multiplied in the past years.”

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