By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said the solution to stopping drones disrupting activity at airports is “not as simple” as suggested by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary.
It comes after flight operations at Dublin Airport were suspended for just under 30 minutes last night due to drone activity.
The Green Party leader said that he would bring a memo to Cabinet next Tuesday to address the issue, but said the solution would not come into effect immediately.
“It will take a number of weeks, it won’t be instantaneous,” he said.
He was responding to comments by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary, who said the solution to illegal drone activity at Dublin Airport is “reasonably easy”.
Mr O’Leary said the airport needed to have the power, which already exists at several other European airports, to disable drones.
“It’s not as simple as Michael O’Leary says,” Mr Ryan said in response on RTÉ radio.
“It’s not just a €100,000 decision. He was saying this morning, ‘oh if only you would let Dublin Airport buy that equipment they’d be fine’.
“There’s nothing stopping Dublin Airport buying that equipment, but we need to make sure we get the right equipment, get the best defensive capability and make sure we do it in a way that protects passengers, protects people living close to the airport, and we have the ability to prosecute people who are then caught and punish them accordingly.”
Mr Ryan said that drone defence technology has been “evolving and changing” as the threat from drones has “exponentially increased in recent times”.
“You want to make sure that you get the best technology, that it isn’t just the cheapest, off-the-shelf version, but it’s the one that gives you the best cover.”
On Thursday evening three flights were diverted after operations were suspended due to a drone sighting.
The airport suspended operations at the airport from 6.27pm until 6.59pm and notified gardaí.
It is the latest in a series of delays at the capital’s airport caused by drone incidents.
Airport authorities have called for tougher sentencing for people who illegally fly drones over Irish airfields, and for new technology that would bring drones down.
Despite the airport having a drone detection system in place, which gives early warning of illegal drone activity, there is no system to bring the drones down.
The Minister agreed that the issue should have been tackled “quicker”, but that he had been trying to keep the airport open post pandemic.
"All the authorities at the airport would be deployed to tackle the risk posed by drones. Any actions had to be taken carefully to ensure they did not have an impact on aviation", he cautioned.
The first action once the Cabinet gives its approval is the purchase of the necessary equipment and then a decision will have to be taken on who will deploy the new technology, he added.
A number of suppliers were being considered.
Mr Ryan pointed out that anti-drone technology was continually evolving, and the Government wanted to ensure that Dublin airport had the best equipment.
Mr O’Leary told RTÉ that around 20,000 people had been affected by the disruption on Thursday.
He said: “This is completely unacceptable. Dublin Airport is the only major EU airport that for six times in the last six weeks has been shut by illegal drone activity.
“The solution to this is reasonably easy,” he added.
“We don’t want 15-year jail sentences. We want Dublin Airport to have the power to disable drones.
“Most European Airports – Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Schiphol – all have anti-drone technology. It’s not expensive. It costs about €100,000 and it is operated by airport police.”
Regina Doherty, a former Fine Gael minister, has also criticised the lack of Government action to take down drones.
“We are an island nation. Our capital’s airport – our main airport – is the twelfth busiest in Europe. It is an absolutely vital international transport hub and it has to work 24/7. There is no room for such constant delays.”