Sep 23, 2023 | Featured Articles

The unauthorised and dangerous use of drones in the vicinity of airports has become a recent hazard to airline safety, not just in Ireland, but in Europe and further afield. Indeed, there is empirical evidence that the problem is underreported in certain parts of the world for fear of inspiring copycat incidents, writes Kevin Byrne, Airport Safety and Security Auditor.

There can be no doubt that in Irish skies, at least, the sight of a drone is no longer an unusual phenomenon. Indeed, current estimates would indicate that as many as 20,000 drones have been purchased in recent times in this country, mostly for recreational purposes. There is no extant CSO figure in respect of drone ownership, but the regulator, the Irish Aviation Authority, has recorded some 11,000 voluntary registrations to date.

As regards the commercial drone entities, these are employed in a host of innovative operations, such as pipeline and electrical network inspections, property photography, television and film productions, search and rescue tasks, delivery services, ship hull inspections, security and perimeter patrols and many other tasks that lessen the human effort and improve efficiency in some way.

Apropos of low-level hazards to airport safety, top of the list was, for many years, the problems of local bird populations which could result in bird strikes and damage to aircraft. This particular challenge was largely minimised by the establishment of the National Bird Hazard Committee to which all Irish commercial and military airports contribute.

In European skies, the safe operation of civil drones has been addressed in EU Regulations 2019/947 and 2019/945 which adopt a risk-based approach but do not distinguish between leisure or commercial civil drone activities.

In Ireland, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) supervises and implements the regulations while also providing guidance for operating and flying drones so that public safety is assured.

In the main, it is illegal to fly drones within five kilometres of any airport in the State and all drones that weigh more than 1kg must be registered with the IAA. It may be that not all drone operators are aware of these rules, which is unlikely, so there is, perhaps, an assumption that there are malign drone actors who choose to endanger airport users.


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