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How do we stop drones flying near airports once and for all?




Today in London, yet another drone caused disruption at an airport.

This time, it was at Europe’s busiest flight hub – Heathrow. All takeoffs were postponed for an hour as a precautionary measure after a drone was spotted by a BBC cameraman.

This incident comes less than a month after the Gatwick drone debacle, in which multiple drone sightings led to the UK’s second busiest airport being shut for 36 hours. 1000 flights and 140,000 passengers were delayed and chaos ensued.

These type of stories, which I’ll call drones behaving badly, have become so commonplace some readers may find their eyes rolling so hard they look like the possessed girl from The Exorcist.

Reaction from readers to yet another drone at an airport story.

It would be nice to think this problem would fix itself but as the frequency of incidences has become more common, the public is becoming aware of the threat posed by rogue drones. We know that the likes of ISIS would like to use consumer drone in an attack (although there are more effective ways of carrying out attacks at present). Because the status quo isn’t stopping people from doing stupid things something’s gotta give.

Each time an incident occurs, it brings the drone community into disrepute in much the same way that every time someone goes nuts with a gun, it brings responsible gun owners into disrepute (although some gun laws in the United States are WAY too lax). Most drone users are responsible and don’t think it’s a good idea to try and shoot video of planes coming into land. As with all communities, however, we have to make laws and regulations in reaction to the actions of the stupid few.

As I’ve previously mentioned, we are highly likely to see stricter drone laws rolled out across different countries of the back of these incidences. Humans tend to be reactionary when crises occur and major airports being disrupted for several days is the type of event to put some fire under a few politicians’ butts. Let’s have a look at some of the solutions being put forward:

What can we do to fix this and what is being proposed?

Drone registration? 

All commercial drone pilots in the United States must register their drones with the FAA. Non-commercial pilots must only do so if their drone weighs more than .55 pounds (250 grams). You must be more than 13 to register your drone, it costs just $5 and your registration lasts three years. Users must place an identifying sticker on all drones they operate.

The UK is rushing through new drone laws following the Gatwick incident, which will similarly require users to register drones weighing more than .55 pounds.

Registration alone seems unlikely to change the situation from where it currently stands. I’m going to assume that by now, everyone knows the basic rules. In most countries, you are not supposed to fly your drone at night, or out of line-of-sight or higher than 400 feet. You are certainly forbidden from flying near an airport.

If registration was the answer, the US wouldn’t continue to have airport shutdowns, three years after the FAA introduced the drone registration scheme three years ago. Granted – no US airports have been shut down as the result of rogue drones. However, on the 16 November 2018, a man crashed his drone into Barclay’s Bank in Midtown New York. This was smack bang in the middle of restricted airspace near Trump Tower. The pilot was arrested, not because of his drone registration but because he tried to retrieve his damaged UAV. Similarly, at a drone festival in Albuquerque, 40 drones were witnessed violating the local drone laws. Some people just can’t help themselves!

Despite being forbidden from doing so, some 40 drone pilots could not help themselves from trying to snap a shot during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta last year.

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