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Experts to assess threat of drones around Irish airports

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An expert group is to carry out a detailed risk assessment of the threat of drones around our airports after meeting with the Transport Minister.

Shane Ross called a meeting of the National Civil Aviation Threat and Risk Group in the wake of drone incidents in the UK which grounded planes at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

It comes as Fianna Fáil called on the Government to prioritise legislation to regulate the use of drones given the recent disruptions at UK airports which have impacted thousands of passengers both before and after Christmas.

After meeting with the expert group, which includes representatives of all the relevant Government departments and State authorities, airports and airlines, Mr Ross said he had been reassured that there are already strong regulatory provisions in place in Ireland, which control and restrict the use of drones.

According to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) there are more than 11,000 drones registered in Ireland.

Drone users are not allowed fly drones close to airports as there is already a five-kilometre exclusion zone.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said there are also operational protocols in place for dealing with illegal drone activity at the airports, which serve to coordinate the response of the airport authority, air traffic control and An Garda Síochána.

However, during yesterday’s meeting, the expert group told the Minister that they would be carrying out a fresh, detailed risk assessment in the coming weeks – as is established practice – and that will inform any further steps that may be needed to avoid any risks.

But Fianna Fáil spokesperson on science, technology, research and development, James Lawless called on the Government to immediately progress the Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) Bill 2017, which is currently at second stage in Dáil Éireann.

Mr Lawless said: “Minister Ross has acknowledged that what happened recently in the UK could happen here in Ireland. He has convened a meeting of the National Civil Aviation Threat and Risk Group to discuss Irish vigilance on the issue.

“Drones present many interesting opportunities for both personal and commercial use.

But recently we have seen a more sinister side with widespread travel disruption, huge financial losses and potential risk of life.

He said his Bill had been first put forward over two years ago but is still snaking its way through the Oireachtas adding that given the fact that drones are freely available and largely untraceable they need to be fully regulated.

“If the Government was serious about protecting Irish airspace from this threat, it would work with the existing legislation available to them,” Mr Lawless said.

“It’s clear that drones can provide many benefits, but in the wrong hands they are quite literally weapons.

Legislation and a framework on their use is required. I am calling on the Government to progress my Bill and see it through the legislative process,” Mr Lawless said.

Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond also said it is vital that the public are assured that we have the capacity to deal with any potential drone disturbances at Irish airports swiftly.

“The economic and human costs of these drone attacks have been massive. Understandably, many Irish travellers are concerned the same could happen here,” he said.

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