Ben Gurion Airport Edgy Over Drones

A surveillance drone with camera attached. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Shimon B. Lifkin

YERUSHALAYIM – The proliferation of commercial drones in Israeli airspace has become a serious safety hazard, as illustrated by the disruption of flights at Ben Gurion airport due to an unidentified unmanned craft this week.

All flights were temporarily grounded or rerouted when a civilian drone entered designated airspace, an aviation expert told The Jerusalem Post, adding that inadequate regulation of drones poses a rapidly growing danger to air traffic.

Determining that the drone presented “a direct risk to the airplanes,” the Airports Authority ordered a 15-minute delay on Tuesday at 11:45 p.m., until the drone had gone.

“The drones are very, very dangerous and can damage an airplane very seriously, depending on the weight of the drone and speed of the aircraft,” Neri Yarkoni, former director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority and an aviation attorney and pilot, said.

“In general, if it hits the engine, then the engine is gone; if it hits the cockpit, it could break the window and kill pilots.”

The small size of the craft is such that pilots have great difficulty identifying them in the air, Yarkoni said, increasing the risk of collision.

Military drones are bigger and faster than civilian ones, and are potentially more dangerous to commercial passenger planes, but they are coordinated with radar to avoid collisions. Civilian drones, by contrast, are flown by amateurs without such coordination; though smaller in size, the risk of collision is greater.

As things stand, the aviation authorities lack the tools to enforce laws banning drones from flying into commercial airspace.

“Unless there is a computerized system to block or neutralize drones in advance, like with smartphones that are routed a certain way, they can fly anywhere at any time,” Yarkoni said.

“If it were up to me, yesterday would be the last time drones could be flown by amateurs freely.”

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