21 April 2020

Drone surveillance to start at Canberra Airport as five spotted in past two years

| Glynis Quinlan
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Quadrocopters silhouette against the background of the sunset. Flying drones in the evening sky.

Pilots have recorded sightings of five drones near Canberra Airport since October 2016.

New data shows there have been five recorded sightings of drones near Canberra Airport in the last 28 months – a situation which a local defence expert says can carry big risks for planes.

In coming months, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority will undertake drone-tracking surveillance at Canberra Airport and other major metropolitan airports to try to better understand the extent of the problem and how to address it.

Airservices Australia has told Region Media that pilots have recorded 468 sightings of drones at Australian airports since the third quarter of 2016, including five at Canberra Airport.

CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said they “don’t want drones flying near airports and putting planes at risk”.

He said that CASA has engaged Counter Drone Solutions to provide equipment for drone surveillance at Canberra Airport and other Australian airports which will include monitoring whether drones are in the area, getting the serial numbers of the drones and identifying where the controllers are.

“If we set it up at Canberra Airport for one or two weeks it will give us a picture of drone usage in that time,” Mr Gibson said.

“Collecting that data will allow us to be better informed in developing a drone safety strategy.

“The equipment does allow us in the future to use it for enforcement.”

CASA will undertake drone surveillance at Canberra Airport. File photo of a Qantas plane parked at the airport.

Last December Gatwick Airport in England was temporarily shut down after drones were seen in the area, causing delays for thousands of travellers.

A defence technology expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Jai Galliott told Region Media that despite the best engineering efforts, drones still pose a “really big risk” to planes.

He said that the primary concern is that the drones will be sucked into the plane’s engine but it could also be an issue if the drone was to strike part of the fuselage (main body section).

“At the right speed and the right location, it could puncture the aluminium or fibre body of the aircraft.”

Dr Galliott added that there is also the security concerns of having drones near airports.

Mr Gibson said that in Australia, drones must not fly within 5.5 kilometres of an airport and there are fines of up to $10,000 if they do.

“In cases where you put lives at risk you could face up to five years in jail,” Mr Gibson said.

CASA’s drone surveillance will start this month and be rolled out progressively to all of Australia’s major metropolitan airports.

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I have always been surprised that they allow the model airplane club to operate on the Monaro highway, so close to the Southern approach to the Airport and the Southcare site!

I suspect that’s because the members of the club are likely to be responsible flyers who obey the rules and regulations. The ones who cause problems are the ones who don’t.

Capital Retro11:58 am 22 Jan 19

Radio controlled model aircraft are range limited by line of sight and the radio range is also limited. If either of these factors fail the aircraft crashes into the ground immediately. RC modellers are a very responsible group.

Some drones with cameras can be flown (illegally) “over the horizon” using the on board camera for visual reference – they also self-stabilise and have a return to take-off point function.

Capital Retro6:55 pm 21 Jan 19

“Mr Gibson said that in Australia, drones must not fly within 5.5 kilometres of an airport and there are fines of up to $10,000 if they do.”

It’s not only an airport. The Southcare heliport (or whatever it is called now) is also a drone free area.

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