Wayward drone briefly grounds flights at Ben Gurion Airport

Israel Airports Authority says airspace closed for 10 minutes because UAV caused a ‘security and safety risk’ to airplanes

A view of Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, January 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
A view of Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, January 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

All flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport were briefly grounded Monday evening after a civilian drone strayed into the airfield’s airspace, causing a “security and safety risk” the Israel Airports Authority said.

The UAV was spotted at 7:20 p.m., initiating an immediate shutdown of Ben Gurion’s airspace and delaying all arrivals and departures for 10 minutes, the authority said in a statement. The incident happened hours after US Vice President Mike Pence arrived at the airport for a two-day visit to Israel.

Police and security teams were dispatched to find the owner of the drone.

“The Israel Airports Authority treats the use of drones in the vicinity of the airport with grave seriousness and reiterates that there is a complete ban on their use in the area,” a statement from the body said. “The airport returned to full activity after the security and safety risk was removed.”

Illustrative: A remote-controlled drone with a camera attached to it, February 18, 2015.
(Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Last month a similar incident grounded planes for around 15 minutes and in November 2016, flights were briefly delayed when a pilot landing at Ben Gurion spotted a drone near the runway. In 2015 a disaster at the airport was narrowly averted when a drone came dangerously close to an incoming plane, forcing the aircraft to adjust its course.

With drones becoming more affordable, powerful, and prevalent, Israel’s security forces and regulators have failed to adequately confront the threats posed to public safety by the world-changing technology, a state comptroller report released in November said.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira presents the State Comptroller’s Report in the Knesset on November 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Once an expensive and complicated device, small multi-rotor drones have become ubiquitous in a few short years. According to the Civilian Aviation Authority, Israelis currently own approximately 20,000 drones that are used for everything from taking overhead videos at weddings to assisting rescue workers to locate people trapped in collapsed buildings.

But those unmanned aerial vehicles have also become more accessible to criminals and terrorists, who can use them to plan and carry out crimes.

Though it has been working on the problem for over a year, the military has yet to find a comprehensive approach to addressing the threat, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira found.

While the Israel Defense Forces is clearly expected to confront drones flown by terrorist groups, it is unclear which security service is responsible for UAVs flown by Israelis inside Israel. The army sees it as the police’s domain, as it is a civilian matter, while the police sees it as the army’s since it is responsible for securing the country’s airspace.

Earlier this month, a national task force slated to deal with safety and security issues connected to drones was unveiled at a meeting of the Knesset’s State Control Committee. The new body, which will have its own dedicated budget and will be led by the air force, has been given six months to determine operating procedures, after which it will report back to the committee on whether or not to push for drone regulation.

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