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Gardaí investigating after drone sighting at Dublin Airport causes 30-minute flight shutdown

Two flights were diverted to Belfast and one to Shannon during that period.

Updated Feb 21st 2019, 3:56 PM

DUBLIN AIRPORT HAS resumed flight operations after they were earlier suspended due to the sighting of a drone.

Operations were suspended for 30 minutes, and flight schedules are now beginning to return to normal.

Two flights were diverted to Belfast and one to Shannon during that period.

Gardaí have said they are “investigating the alleged sighting of a drone around the area at Dublin Airport”. No arrests have currently been made. 

An airport spokesperson said a pilot had reported a definite sighting of a drone while taxiing to a runway. The pilot made the report to air traffic control and a decision was made to suspend flights. 

“A 30-minute suspension of flights was implemented by air traffic control at that point, which is the agreed procedure in such cases,” the DAA – which handles operations at Dublin Airport – said in a statement. 

As there were no further drone sightings within the 30-minute suspension period, Dublin Airport resumed flight operations shortly after noon.   
The safety and security of airport users is [the] DAA’s key priority at all times and staff at Dublin Airport, the IAA, and other agencies continue to remain vigilant in relation to drone activity in the vicinity of the airport.  

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, a spokesperson for the DAA said there would be some knock-on delays as a result of the suspension, but that as the stoppage was only for a relatively short time, airlines should catch up throughout the day. 

Raised in the Dáil

The matter was raised in the Dáil this afternoon by Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary who questioned Tánaiste Simon Coveney over the government’s preparedness to deal with issues of drones at airports. 

“This is an issue that has been raised with the Minister for Transport. He has given a commitment to look into the issue and to ensure that an appropriate response is put in place,” Coveney said. 

“But there are some very sophisticated airports in some very well-resourced countries that haven’t been able to deal with this issue easily. 

“So I don’t think we should pretend that Ireland should be immune from challenges that are very difficult to deal with from a technical perspective. 

But of course we will learn from the lessons of others… and ensure that we put mechanisms in place that are as effective as possible.

At the airport 

After flights had resumed, an increased number of plane watchers gathered at the airport’s perimeter to watch planes taking off and landing again.

A number of gardaí were also present at the layby and airport rescue vehicles were driving past inside the perimeter.

Ugo Alambi and his wife Patricia said they usually come by for ten minutes each day to watch the planes and arrived today after flights had resumed.

They said both gardaí and Airport Police were patrolling and asking watchers what they had seen.

“We came here and saw all the police afterwards and I asked what was happening and she said it was a drone. There were a lot of [police] around,” Ugo said.

He added that he knows the incident is a first for Ireland and can be difficult to stop.

“It happened over in England, I know that but it’s the first time here.

“I was talking to my friend here and she was saying, they can be anywhere these drones, they can be anywhere, so it’s very difficult to catch.”

A couple of other watchers noted that flights returned swiftly after they were suspended this morning.

4651 Drones airport_90564775 Airport police cars patrol at Dublin Airport this afternoon. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Concerns 

Concerns were expressed late last year that an Irish airport could be affected by drones after Gatwick Airport near London was shut down due to the presence of a drone in December. 

The British Army was called into help address the situation and there was massive disruption at the London airport, which only operates one runway, all day on 20 December as a result of drones flying overhead.

The vast majority of the 110,000 passengers due to fly to or from the airport were affected as at least 800 flights were cancelled and a number of others diverted or delayed.

The chaos at the time sparked concerns that a similar incident could happen at an Irish airport, with questions whether there were laws in place to help combat a situation like today’s occurring. 

Since December 2015, all drones weighing over 1kg must be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

Under the Irish Aviation Authority (Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets) Order, drones are not allowed fly in civil or military controlled airspace or within 5km of an aerodrome or airport unless the aerodrome operator has given permission, and no higher than 400 feet above ground or sea level.

Safety meeting

In January, Transport Minister Shane Ross convened a special meeting of the  National Civil Aviation Threat and Risk Group over the risks posed by drones. 

“There are already strict rules in Ireland around the use of drones, including an exclusion zone of five kilometres around airports,” the minister said at the time. 

“The misuse of drones is an offence, and flying drones in controlled Irish airspace or within five kilometres of an airport is a very serious matter.

I have asked my department to convene at short notice a special meeting of an expert industry group to assess recent events and advise me on how we are prepared at our own airports and whether there are further things which can be done. 

- With reporting from Rónan Duffy at Dublin Airport, and Órla Ryan    

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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