There is much to be excited about as we look to the future of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Undoubtedly, there will be efficiencies and benefits to transportation and commerce that come with this technology. For airports, however, focus and attention remain on the type of UAS operation—and operator—that is the most significant threat to aircraft and airport environments: the careless, clueless, or criminal.
On an average day at Tampa International Airport, more than 550 aircrafts land and takeoff. The economic impact associated with the airport is in excess of fourteen billion dollars, and over 121,000 jobs are supported by the airport. With more than 22 million customers flying through the airport every year (and growing), protecting the airport and surrounding airspace from UAS operations that jeopardize safety and security are a top priority.
Millions of UAS are in the hands of consumers, and that number continues to grow exponentially. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has worked diligently to provide a framework for UAS operations. There is little doubt that these efforts have helped operators be aware of and avoid flying in areas that could be disruptive, or worse, catastrophic to commercial and general aviation aircraft operations.
But these efforts are just a start. Like many threats, the use of UAS and the hazard these aerial systems potentially pose continues to evolve. In July of 2017, London’s Gatwick airport experienced one of the first significant disruptions caused by a UAS. Gatwick temporarily suspended operations twice on July 2nd. Regretfully, this incident was a harbinger for what was to come.
On December 19, 2018, Gatwick experienced a more significant disruption caused by a UAS. With the second busiest airport in London closed for 27 hours, nearly 200,000 customers were impacted, with economic losses approaching 100 million dollars.