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Drones have gained a lot of popularity in recent years, but they have also caused plenty of headaches for airports. A series of recent drone-related incidents have resulted in serious delays and shutdowns at airports in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Are drone problems going to get worse? According to aviation experts, the threat is very real, with a growing number of pilots reporting near misses with drones.
Gatwick and Newark Airport Delays
In January 2019, all air traffic at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport was temporarily halted for 90 minutes after two pilots spotted drones in their aircrafts’ flying space. One of the pilots said the object, which he described as looking like a drone, came “about 30 feet away from the right wing” of his airplane.
Considering that Newark is one of the country’s busiest airports, the temporary shutdown caused inconvenience for many passengers. Reports state that over 40 flights were delayed for up to 21 minutes due to the drone sightings, with dozens of other flights forced to circle the airport before they were given the all-clear to land. For one flight, which was traveling from Jamaica, the forced circling put it dangerously close to running out of jet fuel.
In December 2018, at the height of the holiday travel season, a similar drone sighting forced Gatwick Airport in London, England to suspend flights. As a result, over 100,000 passengers were stranded while the airport tried to determine whether the threat was resolved.
One aviation expert who studies drone strikes stated that irresponsible drone use causes a number of problems for the industry, including additional stress on pilots and air traffic controllers, who are already under a great deal of stress. Drones also cause problems for passengers, who must worry about delays as well as their safety.
Experts also say that, while small compared to a commercial jet, drones can cause a great deal of damage if they strike an airplane. A jetliner’s wings, engine, windshield, and vertical stabilizer are incredibly vulnerable to damage if struck by a drone. One expert even said that the crash impact of a drone weighing between 10 and 15 pounds could cause the loss of an aircraft when a collision between the two occurs close to the ground.
Drone Sightings on the Rise Around Airports
Aviation experts say that airport shutdowns due to drone sightings are still quite uncommon, but that there is reason to worry these incidents will continue to happen.
In 2018, pilots around the country reported seeing about 2,000 drones, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These sightings are likely to go up, as people in the U.S. have registered about 1 million drones. Experts say this number will probably double by 2022.
Currently, FAA rules require drones to stay a minimum of five miles away from any airport unless they have special permission from the FAA to fly closer. FAA rules also mandate that drones must fly below 400 feet. In both the Newark and Gatwick cases, pilots said the drones they sighted were at an altitude of 3,500 feet.
In one study conducted by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, researchers found that nearly 200 drone flights took place around Daytona Beach International Airport in just a 13-day span in 2018. Out of all of these drone flights, 1 in 5 put an airplane and its passenger at risk.
Airports Investing in Drone Detection Technology
In response to the threat, some airports say they will invest in drone detection technology. Additionally, some drone manufacturers have started equipping their drones with GPS technology that prohibits drones from flying too close to an airport. The technology acts as a virtual fence to stop drone operators from flying their drones into an airport’s airspace.
Drones have become such a common sight in the sky, in fact, that the FAA declared the 2019 Super Bowl a “no drone zone.” The ban, which started the Thursday before the game, lasted for three days as a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) within a 30-mile nautical radius and 18,000-foot altitude around the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The FAA issued a warning that anyone found in violation of the TFR could face a maximum penalty of $20,000.
Despite the warning, the FBI stated that it seized six drones flying within the restricted zone. Reports also stated that the FAA used an experimental type of drone detection system to help minimize the threat of unauthorized drones entering the airspace above the Super Bowl.
Undoubtedly, some drone operators simply don’t realize that they are flying their drones into an airport’s space, while others may not realize just how dangerous it is for a drone to get near a commercial airplane. However, there are others who continue to fly too close deliberately, putting passengers and pilots at unnecessary risk.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries caused by an aviation accident, you should speak with Manhattan aviation accident lawyer Jonathan C. Reiter who knows how to investigate airline accidents and has the case results to prove it.
Manhattan Aviation Accident Attorney Jonathan C. Reiter
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case. Recoveries always depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, the injuries suffered, damages incurred, and the responsibility of those involved.