Government split over airport drone problem

Officials unable to decide which department should take charge of issue that has affected thousands of travellers

Divisions emerged at a meeting on Friday over which arm of government should take responsibility for tackling drone incursions at Dublin Airport that have disrupted tens of thousands of travellers over the last eight weeks.

The airport’s sixth drone incident in eight weeks diverted three flights and disrupted hundreds more passengers on Thursday night, prompting Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary to call on Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to end the problem or resign.

Sources say Government officials are unable to decide on whether final responsibility for dealing with drone incursions should fall on the Department of Transport, Department of Defence or Department of Justice.

A meeting involving Mr Ryan, his Minister of State colleague Jack Chambers, their officials, representatives of An Garda Síochána, and Department of Defence, airport operator DAA and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) highlighted the divisions on Friday.


Officials from all the government departments agreed that the problem should be tackled, but not on who should take responsibility, participants said afterwards.

The parties met following Thursday night’s drone incident at Dublin Airport, which forced the diversion of two Ryanair flights and one Emirates service, to Belfast and Shannon airports.

DAA has had drone detection and warning systems for several years, but does not have the power to take drones down, even though flying them within 5km of an airport is illegal.

Legislation is needed to give the power to either DAA or another State body, including the Garda or Defence Forces, to take them down.

Speaking after Friday’s meeting, Mr Ryan confirmed that the Cabinet would discuss a memo dealing with a proposed new law to solve this problem on Tuesday.

Gatwick Airport in southern England faced the same problem for a period in 2018, but resolved it within weeks.

Mr O’Leary pointed out that airport police at Gatwick, Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and other European gateways have the equipment needed to take down drones, which costs about €100,000, while their police have the power to use it.

He said Mr Ryan was “asleep on the job” while drones kept closing Dublin Airport.

“Sadly, our transport Minister is all talk and no action when it comes to drone closures,” he said. “As transport Minister he should now fix this issue or resign and let somebody more effective do the job.”

Aer Lingus demanded “more urgency” from Dublin Airport, the regulator and Department of Transport.

“Processes and technology are urgently required to prevent these events happening in the first place and to minimise the disruption if they do happen,” said the airline.

The Department of Transport said the State was “working closely with aviation authorities and an Garda Siochana to tackle the threat of illegal drones” to cut risks to passengers and ease any disruption.

The Department of Defence, DAA and IAA did not comment on Friday’s meeting.

Gardaí recently arrested two individuals in connection with earlier drone incidents at Dublin.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

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