Garda inquiry after drone sighting grounds Dublin flights

Services restored following 30-minute disruption after pilot spots device at airfield

A no drone zone sign is pictured on the perimeter fence of the Dublin Airport airfield after  the temporary suspension of operations at the airport following a drone sighting on Thursday. Photograph: Nial Carson/PA Wire

A no drone zone sign is pictured on the perimeter fence of the Dublin Airport airfield after the temporary suspension of operations at the airport following a drone sighting on Thursday. Photograph: Nial Carson/PA Wire

 

A Garda investigation is underway after a drone sighting at Dublin Airport forced the suspension of all flights for a brief period on Thursday.

The drone was reported to air traffic control and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) by a pilot taxiing along the runway at 11.30am and the authority immediately ordered the suspension of all flights into and out of the airport.

“Once the confirmed sighting was reported set protocols kicked in,” DAA spokeswoman Siobhán O’Donnell said. “Safety was paramount because a drone striking an aircraft can have a catastrophic affect.”

Ms O’Donnell said once flights were suspended DAA’s emergency services worked in conjunction with other State agencies to establish the level of risk.

Airport police question motorists at site popular with plane spotters after a confirmed drone sighting forced the temporary suspension of operations at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Nial Carson/PA Wire
Airport police question motorists at site popular with plane spotters after a confirmed drone sighting forced the temporary suspension of operations at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Nial Carson/PA Wire

Three flights had to be diverted away from the airport as a result of the suspension with two going to Belfast a third plane diverted to Shannon.

When no further sightings were reported, flight operations resumed after around 30 minutes with flight schedules quickly returning to normal.

It is the first time Dublin Airport has been closed as a result of drone activity.

“This is something we would take very seriously and we will be carrying out an immediate review and will actively be involved in a wider review involving other State agencies,” Ms O’Donnell said.

‘Appropriate response’

It is illegal to fly a drone within 5km of Dublin Airport or any controlled airspace and any drone which is heavier than 1kg must be registered with the IAA.

A Garda spokesman said an investigation was underway into the sighting and that no arrests had been made.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Dáil that the Minister for Transport Shane Ross had given a commitment to look into the matter and to “ensure that an appropriate response is put in place”.

“I don’t think we should pretend that Ireland should be immune from challenges that are very difficult to deal with from a technical point of view,” Mr Coveney said. “There are sophisticated airports in some very well resourced countries that haven’t been able to deal with this issue easily, in the US and UK most recently.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: ‘I don’t think we should pretend that Ireland should be immune from challenges that are very difficult to deal with from a technical point of view’. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Tánaiste Simon Coveney: ‘I don’t think we should pretend that Ireland should be immune from challenges that are very difficult to deal with from a technical point of view’. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Drones were discussed in January at a meeting of the National Civil Aviation Threat and Risk Group - which includes representatives of the Garda, Defence Forces, officials from the departments of transport, justice and foreign affairs, the Irish Aviation Authority, and the State’s airports.

The meeting was convened in the wake of drone sightings which caused travel chaos at Gatwick in the run up to Christmas. Around 1,000 flights were cancelled over three days with 140,000 passengers affected as a result of the incident.

Legislation

Fianna Fáil’s technology spokesman James Lawless called on the Government to immediately progress the Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) Bill 2017, which is currently at second stage in the Dáil.

“This morning’s disruption at Dublin Airport demonstrates the urgent need for my legislation to be progressed,” he said. “Thankfully the disruption was kept to a minimum but who knows what will happen next.”

He said other jurisdictions had responded rapidly to the emerging threats such as in the UK where they are granting more powers to police forces to intercept drones and their operators, or Canada, where emergency legislation has been passed since Christmas.

“It’s time the Government stepped up to the plate. Drones are freely available and largely untraceable. They are available without age restrictions or registration,” he said.