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Drone Disruption: Civilians Are Shutting Down Airports With Their Unmanned Aircraft

A drone hovers at the DJI booth during CES International in Las Vegas. (John Locher, File/AP)
A drone hovers at the DJI booth during CES International in Las Vegas. (John Locher, File/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Another airport is shut down after an apparent drone sighting. We’ll unpack drone disruption and what to do about it.


Alan Levin, reporter for Bloomberg News covering aviation and drones. ( @AlanLevin1)

John Halinski, former deputy administrator at the Transportation Security Administration. Consultant for the International Civil Aviation Organization. ( @JohnHalinski )

Captain Larry Rooney, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association ( @CAPApilots ) . A 35-year veteran of the airline industry with an extensive background in aviation safety, training, security and domestic and international flight operations.

Adam Lisberg, spokesman for the drone manufacturer DJI ( @DJIGlobal), which produces an estimated 75 percent of the world’s drones. ( @adamlisberg)

From The Reading List

Bloomberg: “ Newark Pilot Says Drone ‘Probably 20 Feet, 30 Feet’ From Wing” — “The pilot on the United Airlines flight nearing Newark Liberty International Airport was given plenty of warning by air-traffic control that a drone was in his vicinity. Still, he sounded stunned at what he saw.

“‘We missed the drone by about 30 feet off our right wing,’ the pilot radioed, stifling an incredulous chortle.

“The United crew’s report was the second sighting within minutes and that was all it took for controllers to halt arrivals at one of the New York area’s busy airports, triggering hours of delays. More than 40 flights headed to Newark were disrupted as the airport temporarily shut down arrivals Tuesday after the report from the United pilot.

“‘OK, and looks like about the same altitude?’ the air-traffic controller replied, according to a recording of Tuesday afternoon’s incident made available by the website”

New York Times: “ Q&A: A Look at What Happens When Drones Get Near Airports” — “The ability of drones to interfere with airliners — and inconvenience their passengers — has now been demonstrated on two continents, and the problem is likely to get worse as the number of small, unmanned devices multiply.

“Law enforcement authorities are trying to figure out who flew a drone so high and so close to Newark Liberty International Airport that incoming flights were held up briefly during a peak hour at one of the nation’s busiest airports.

“Flights resumed within about 30 minutes — much more quickly than after a similar incident last month at London’s Gatwick Airport.

“Here are some common questions readers have about these incidents and brief answers.”

Washington Post: “ Did a pair of drones interfere with flights at Newark Airport, or was it something else?” — “One day after reports of drone activity near Newark Liberty International Airport temporarily halted flights, there are questions about whether the unmanned object spotted in the New Jersey sky was indeed a drone.

“Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration said at about 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday they received two reports of possible drones operating near Newark Airport. One came from a Southwest Airlines pilot and the other from a United Airlines pilot who spotted what they believed was a drone in the air as they prepared to land at Newark. However, an FAA spokesman said Wednesday that the agency has been unable to independently confirm the sightings.

“‘We continue to work with local law enforcement to find additional evidence,’ the spokesman said.

“The agency had initially said that the drones were spotted near Teterboro Airport, a smaller airport located about 17 miles north of Newark. On Wednesday, they said the drones were operating about nine miles from Newark Airport in airspace used by incoming flights.

BBC: “ EasyJet says drone chaos was ‘wake-up call’ for airports” — “EasyJet has said last month’s drone disruption at Gatwick was a ‘wake-up call’ for airports.

“The drones caused blanket cancellations over a number of days in December and mass passenger disruption as a result.

“The airline said the drones cost it £15m in passenger compensation and lost revenues, and hit 82,000 customers.

“EasyJet’s chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said he was ‘disappointed’ the airport took so long to resolve the situation and reopen the runways.

“He acknowledged it was a ‘criminal act’ and difficult to guard against.”

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