Wayward drone briefly grounds flights at Ben Gurion Airport

Israel Airports Authority says airspace closed for 15 minutes because UAV caused ‘a direct risk to the airplanes’

Observation tower at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Observation tower at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

All flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport were briefly grounded late Tuesday night after a civilian drone strayed into the airfield’s airspace, causing “a direct risk to the airplanes,” the Israel Airports Authority said Wednesday morning.

The UAV was spotted at 11:45 p.m., initiating an immediate shutdown of Ben Gurion’s airspace and delaying all arrivals and departures for 15 minutes, the authority said in a statement.

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

“The phenomenon of drones entering the airport’s airspace is a direct risk to the airplanes and to the safety of air travel,” the statement said.

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

Last November, 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 last month 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.

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