Airport Business

DEC 2017 - JAN 2018

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LEGAL MATTERS 38 airportbusiness December 2017/January 2018 By Mark Dombroff Airport Airspace — The Safest Place to Fly a Drone? Prudence about such dangers is why federal officials, as part of the congressio- nally mandated integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS), moved to ban drone flights within five miles of any air- port. Ironically, a strong argument can be made that the object of these concerns — UAS — can actually be a powerful tool to improve the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of U.S. airport operations in the years ahead. To be clear, the dangers posed by the unauthorized use of drones over American air- ports are unmistakable and require vigilance. However, another scenario has received scant attention despite its potential upside: namely, the tightly controlled and narrowly defined oper- ation of UAS to execute critical tasks such as Foreign Object Debris (FOD) inspections; "eye- in-the-sky" security flyovers; fuselage inspec- tions; wildlife detection/deterrence, and more. If you think about it, potentially the safest airspace in the world is over U.S. airports. After all, no part of the NAS is as tightly controlled and monitored. Consider for a moment the A n airport is the safest place to fly a drone. Surely that statement would strike anyone in aviation as counter- intuitive, to put it mildly. After all, sightings of unauthorized Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) flying near air- ports already amount to an unsettling problem: Reports of possible drone sightings to FAA air traf- fic facilities rose to 1,274 incidents in 2016, up from 874 the year before, according to the FAA. It is a global problem as well. Take what happened this past November at Congonhas in São Paulo. After a pilot reported seeing an unidentified drone circling above one of the runways, authorities shut down operations for more than two hours. Hundreds of passengers were stranded as airlines cancelled flights into and out of the city. These precautions were perfectly rational: The mere thought of UAS straying over runways tends to evoke images of catastrophe—drones being sucked into jet engines, snarled in helicopter rotors or plastered onto aircraft windshields, to name just a few of the grim possibilities.

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