Counter-drone system delay leaves airport vulnerable

Published date07 February 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
On four occasions over the past two weeks, suspected illegal drone activity at Dublin Airport has seen flights delayed and diverted, throwing the plans of thousands of passengers travelling to and from Ireland into disarray

While operational shutdowns of 10-40 minutes might not sound like a major issue, so precise are the movements of aircraft in and out of major airports, and so finely tuned are the fuel loads they carry, that even the briefest of disruptions can wreak havoc.

The delays at Dublin over the bank holiday weekend pale in comparison to what happened at Gatwick Airport near London over two days before Christmas 2018. That particular drama started shortly after 9pm on December 19th, when a Gatwick employee spotted a drone close to the runway perimeter as he headed home. He alerted air traffic control and an emergency response was implemented.

Over the course of that night and the following day, the airport remained on high alert with flights suspended. Every time the authorities thought they were in the clear, more drones appeared or, at the least, there were reports of more sightings. The military and antiterrorism police units became involved and hundreds of thousands of passengers had their Christmas plans upended. The episode cost the airport and the airlines using it tens of millions.

Multiple inquiries took place but the culprits were never found.

There have been reports of countless drone sightings at airports globally since and while none has matched the scale of disruption at Gatwick, shutdowns and the suspension of operations have been a factor in almost all of them.


So it has been in Dublin in recent days. The suspected drone activity over the weekend caused six flights on the approach to Dublin to be diverted to Shannon and Belfast on Saturday between 2:10pm and 2:55pm. At least four were diverted on Friday between 6:45pm and 7:10pm. A futher round of disruption yesterday saw at least three diverted between 7pm and 7:40pm.

Operations were also suspended in line with protocols on January 25th for about 20 minutes as a result of another drone sighting at the airfield.

In terse statements issued on Friday and Saturday, airport operator DAA confirmed flight operations were suspended "for safety reasons for a very short period" after the drone sightings, adding that it was "illegal to fly drones within 5km" of an Irish airport.

The DAA would not be drawn on the impact this activity was having or speculate as to who might have...

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