One day after all flights at Ben-Gurion Airport were temporarily grounded or rerouted due to a civilian drone flying in designated airspace, an aviation expert said the dangers unregulated drones present to commercial flights are growing exponentially.
On Tuesday at 11:45 p.m., the unidentified unmanned aerial vehicle presented “a direct risk to the airplanes,” resulting in a 15-minute delay, the Airports Authority said on Wednesday.
Although no injuries were reported, Neri Yarkoni, former director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority and an aviation attorney and pilot, said drones are becoming a menace to flights across the globe.
“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,” he 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.”
Moreover, because civilian drones are so small, pilots have great difficulty identifying them in the air, Yarkoni said.
“You cannot see them until they hit you, so they are like antiaircraft ammunition,” he said, only half-jokingly.
While civilian drones are dangerous at low altitudes, Yarkoni noted that they present the greatest danger at night or in cloudy weather in higher altitudes.
“When you take off and land, you are at a low altitude, so the chances of hitting a drone are greater because drones usually do not operate in high altitudes, but the danger in high altitudes is higher because the speed of the aircraft is faster,” he said.
Although military drones can fly up to an altitude of over 12,000 meters, Yarkoni said they are synchronized with the radar for commercial flights to avert a possible collision. Civilian drones, he warned, are flown by amateurs and are presently nearly impossible to regulate.
“The danger comes from the amateurs who fly them for their own purposes,” he said, noting that Tuesday night’s type of incident is not limited to Israel.
“And it will become more and more dangerous because the price of such drones are getting lower and lower, and they are getting increasingly easy to use, so even children can fly them.”
Indeed, Yarkoni compared the rapid proliferation of civilian drones to the Internet in terms of decentralization and lack of oversight.
“You cannot control the Internet, the same way you can’t control drones,” he said.
To remedy the problem, Yarkoni said, all drones must be registered with readily identifiable serial numbers that are monitored via radar by a computerized central database coordinated with airports.
“There is no other way to create a safe environment for flights,” he said.
In the meantime, although there are aviation laws in Israel forbidding drones from flying into commercial airspace, the laws are nearly impossible to enforce without a traceable drone, Yarkoni said.
“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,” he warned.
“It’s a complex problem with a simple solution,” he added.
“If it were up to me, yesterday would be the last time drones could be flown by amateurs freely.”