The Civil Aviation Authority has recently recorded an increase in the number of reported incidents in which the protection zones of airports have been violated by flying drones and aircraft have been hit by laser beams. In one case, a collision between a helicopter and a drone was even reported. The situation is alarming and the Civil Aviation Authority considers it necessary to comment on this situation.
Threatening the safety of manned aircraft by approaching a drone and attacking with a laser can be considered as a similar type of threat. Although they appear to be different, there are certain features common to both types. Both drones and lasers are devices using relatively new technologies and their regulation is only just beginning. They are available to the general public who are often unaware of the potential dangers. Both are also capable of causing damage from a distance, whether carelessly or intentionally.
Especially this last aspect is crucial. Threats to safety by drones and lasers, if we do not consider only the material side, are always only one-sided threat for the people on board of the aircraft. Both, the drone pilot and the laser beam shiner (the person shining a laser beam) pointing at the aircraft are missing nature risk perception that exists for the crew and the passengers of the aircraft. The feel of safety is also supported by the idea that no one can see me and I am far enough to be catched.
What could be caused by the drone or the laser beam? What are the steps of hazard identification?
It needs to be realised, that aircraft is high-speed vehicle that is affected by its movement and to which all physical laws are applicable. Aircraft are also not and never will be designed to withstand a collision with any object. There will always be a limit beyond which a damage or an air accident cannot be prevented. In addition, air flows around the aircraft in the form of a not visible flow, which can cause suction and subsequent collision between the aircraft and the drone. Considering the size and speed, this can happen even at a relatively large distance of the drone from the aircraft. Damage to cabin windows, aircraft structure or engine operation during a collision can then result in injury or even loss of life.
When the aircraft is hit by a laser beam, it is not initially physically damaged. However, the cockpit becomes illuminated multiple times and pilot’s vision could be disoriented or completely disabled. The act that someone might consider as a game or a joke, could blind the crew member for tens of seconds. During that time the aircraft continues to move and cannot be stopped. Affecting the behavior of the pilot can lead to a collision with the ground or another aircraft and again can result in injury or loss of life. Certain power of the laser could even cause permanent damage of the crew or passengers vision.
It needs to be realized, that if anyone disturbs the safety of the aircraft and the people on board, he becomes an aggressor. These actions could be considered as an attack and could also be classified as a crime. It is not possible to rely on false feeling of safety that I was far away and no one could see me. Airport operators and armed forces are already able to monitor the operation of drones and laser radiation. Thanks to this ability, they are able to locate the perpetrator of the attack and send an patrol or even a police helicopter to him or her. Therefore, there is no longer possible to look for impunity in anonymity.
Drones or laser are obviously not a threat. The threat is the behavior of drone pilots and laser beam shiner. In case of unintentional misconduct or a rare violation of the regulations, the matter could be resolved by a warning or a regular fine. If the intent was proved and a significant safety threat occured, a penalty of up to 5 million crowns could be imposed. Particularly serious acts, that meets the characteristics established by law, could even be dealt with as a criminal offense. Not much can be done to make aircraft immune to drones or lasers. The area where we can – and must – change something is the awareness of the personal responsibility of the person who uses these devices.
We are therefore appealing to the public to help us spread this awareness.