Drones could soon be buzzing about at an airport near you – on leashes

The mere mention of “drones” and “airports” in the same sentence is likely to cause those managing such sites to immediately break into a cold sweat.

Data released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year revealed nearly 600 reports of quadcopters and other remotely controlled flying machines coming worryingly close to aircraft in the U.S. during a recent five-month period, marking an upward trend in such incidents.

France, just like the U.S., also has strict rules banning drone flights close to and above its airports. However, a couple of airports in the country have recently embraced the technology, and now have a few of the machines buzzing about their airspace to help with inspection and maintenance work. They are, however, on a leash.

You heard that right. They’re tethered to the ground. Perhaps fearing sudden “flyaway” incidents, where a drone goes rogue and flies away from its pilot, those running Charles de Gaulle international airport and Paris-Le Bourget airport have taken understandable precautionary measures to ensure the drones’ safe operation. And quite frankly, without the tethering, they’d never have gotten permission from the French civil aviation authority.

The camera-equipped copters are being used to inspect facilities such as particularly high jet bridges like those used for the massive A380 passenger plane, as well as for the calibration of air navigation assistance instruments.

And no, the drones aren’t simply tied to a piece of string. The kit, the work of French tech firm Elistair, is a lot more sophisticated than that. For a start, the cord that comes with the “High-T” and “Safe-T” kits also supplies the drones with power, allowing the operator unlimited flying time. They also incorporate a micro-wire for high-speed communications between the drone and its operator, a feature that frees it from the effects of jammers and other interference. The airport’s control tower also receives real-time information as to the drone’s whereabouts when it’s in the air.

Elistair’s drones have a decent range of 100 meters, and so far have taken flights lasting up to three hours at altitudes of up to 60 meters.

“With safety conditions fully respected, normal airport activity continued uninterrupted during these [drone flights],” Elistair said in a release.

So despite the very real concerns about drones flying close to airports, the industry is nevertheless open to ideas about how it can use the technology in a carefully controlled environment.

EasyJet, too, has been using drones for some time now, flying them around its planes as part of pre-flight safety inspections.

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