Dublin Airport has a novel idea for tackling rogue drones

What do Dublin Airport in Ireland, Gatwick Airport in England, and Newark Airport in New Jersey have in common? Answer: They’ve all suffered major disruptions in recent months following reports of drones flying nearby.

Airports globally are examining all kinds of tech to try to deal with these potentially dangerous drone incursions, with everything from signal-jamming “bazookas” and anti-drone force fields to net-firing quadcopters offering ways to keep rogue machines at bay.

Forgoing these technologies, at least for now, officials at Ireland’s Dublin Airport have instead turned to human help to ensure the skies around its main transportation hub stay safe.

Specifically, they’re asking the airport’s dedicated group of plane spotters to keep their eyes peeled for rogue drones, and to report any that fly into view.

A flyer recently handed out to plane enthusiasts at Dublin Airport reads: “As I am sure you are aware, illegally operated drones around the airfield and the flight paths, pose an extreme danger to aircraft and to the operation of the airport itself.”

It asks the spotters to “play your part” to help protect the traveling public and keep Dublin Airport a safe place for travelers, adding, “We are asking you to report any sightings of drones around the airfield and to call 999 immediately.”

Finally, it said that if anyone sees one of the remotely controlled flying machines near the airport, they should note “what direction the drone came from and, if you are able, to take a picture of it as well. This will help identify it in the event of a criminal investigation.”

Dublin Airport was forced to suspend its operations for a short period on February 21 following a “confirmed sighting” of a drone over the airfield. At Gatwick in December, a far more serious incident forced the airport to close for more than 30 hours. The disruption caused around 1,000 flight cancellations, affecting some 150,000 passengers. And in Newark, New Jersey, in January 2019, drone sightings prompted air traffic controllers to temporarily reroute incoming flights and suspend outgoing ones.

The growing issue of rogue drone flights around not only airports but also other locations such as prisons and critical infrastructure has spawned a new industry geared toward creating technology capable of safely removing the machines from the sky. Some airports are starting to experiment with the various solutions, although, as in Dublin’s case, calling on the services of plane spotters appears to be a sensible measure that can complement technological solutions.

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