Sunday 24 March 2019

John Mulligan: 'Dublin Airport drone shutdown shows how vulnerable we really are'

Dublin airport where services are now back up and running after an approximately 30 minute disruption due to a confirmed drone sighting. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collin
Dublin airport where services are now back up and running after an approximately 30 minute disruption due to a confirmed drone sighting. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collin
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

There's little that can be done to prevent idiots with drones from disrupting flights.

Yesterday's flight freeze at Dublin Airport - thankfully brief - underscores just how vulnerable all airports are to drone incursions.

And laws that many drone users probably aren't even aware of can realistically offer little in the way of deterrence.

The chaos at Gatwick Airport in December proved that. The 1km exclusion zone for drone operations around UK airports was effectively impossible to actively, never mind passively, enforce.

Yesterday's events at Dublin Airport - with a 5km exclusion zone - proved exactly the same.

This week, it was announced in the UK that from March 13 it will be illegal to fly a drone within just under 5km of an airport there.

Ironically, the wider the exclusion zone, the more difficult it may be to enforce.

The 5km exclusion zone also in effect in Ireland means drones shouldn't be flown at all by residents of a huge swathe of north Dublin, encompassing parts, or indeed all of, highly populated suburbs such as Malahide, Swords and Portmarnock.

It's entirely unrealistic to expect that to be policed in any meaningful manner and underscores what a potential problem drone technology can present.

New laws coming into effect this year will see people owning drones weighing more than 250g have to register them with the Irish Aviation Authority. Currently, drones weighing more than 1kg must be registered.

According to the Irish Aviation Authority, about 11,000 drones have so far been registered with it. But how many have not been? The figure is unknown, but you shouldn't be surprised if it also runs well into the thousands.

Even if drones are registered, there's nothing to prevent someone from using it inappropriately, or dangerously - whether that's hovering over a neighbour's garden or an airport.

And catching the culprits won't be easy.

Irish Independent

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