Australia CASA Asks For Help Finding Sydney Airport Drone Pilots

With the sighting of a drone occurring within the proximity of Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport late last month, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is appealing to the public for information. According to Australian Aviation, an aircraft pilot spotted the device from the cockpit at an estimated distance of 1,200 meters.

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Drones are a serious danger to airport operations, and thus a near-sighting would cause significant disruption. Photo: Pixabay

Details and description of the rogue drone

“On the basis of the credible reports, CASA is concerned the drone may be flown again in the area, posing a risk to aircraft operating to Sydney Airport and in the area,” -CASA

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority via Australian Aviation says that the drone was described as blue and possibly equipped with four rotors (quadcopter). On Monday, July 20th, the device was spotted in the Granville/North Parramatta area between 14:00 and 15:00 local time.

Anyone with information about this drone and its prohibited operation in the Granville/North Paramatta area is asked to contact CASA by emailing investigations@casa.gov.au.

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Sydney Airport is a major hub for Qantas. Photo: Getty Images

What are the rules?

CASA states on its “Know your Drone” webpage that drone operators must not fly their devices higher than 120 meters (400 feet) above ground level.

Furthermore, operators must keep their drones at least 30 meters away from other people and must not fly over or above people or in a crowded area. This could include beaches, parks, events, or sport ovals where there is a game in progress.

Especially relevant in this case, if a drone weighs more than 100 grams, it must be flown at least five and a half kilometers away from a controlled airport, which generally have a control tower at them.

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Gatwick Airport outside of London experienced a ‘drone crisis’ in late 2018 when multiple sightings occurred. This caused a shutdown of airport operations. Photo: Getty Images

A steady increase in drone sightings around airports

As technology evolves and improves, the temptation to fly drones around airports becomes all the more real. Drones in general, but especially at airports, offer a unique and rare perspective. In 2020, with the global health crisis, there is even more temptation as scores of large aircraft are parked in large orderly groups at airports around the world.

Of course, this was a problem even before the pandemic. Reporting by Australian Aviation has revealed that over the last three years, the number of ‘near encounters’ between drones and manned aircraft has doubled. In fact, there were 194 similar ‘near encounters’ between drones and aircraft in 2019, up from 87 in 2016.

Perhaps the most dramatic civil aviation incident involving a drone was the crisis at Gatwick Airport in 2018.

On the evening of Wednesday, December 19th, Gatwick air traffic control noticed two drones flying low over the runway. The airport authority decided to close the runway until 03:00, so they could be sure that the flight path was safe. Unfortunately, the drones returned at around 03:00, forcing the airport to close down again.

For multiple days, Gatwick Airport was shut down. Therefore, hundreds of flights were canceled, causing massive chaos for airlines and travelers. We may never know the full cost of the drone crisis. However, easyJet had released an estimate of the impact on their airline. During the incident, the airline was forced to cancel over 400 flights. This affected 82,000 passengers.

Do you fly a drone? What do you think of this story? Let us know in the comments.

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