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Drone danger at airports? Not if this task force can help it

Unmanned aircraft have shut down flights at London and New Jersey airports. A new group hopes to reduce such drone risks.

This video apparently was shot from a drone immediately above a jet landing at Las Vegas's airport.

Video from KLAS TV/; screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

If you're worried somebody's drone will get sucked into the engine of your jet as you take off, you're not alone. Which is why Michael Huerta, former chief of the US Federal Aviation Administration, is helping lead a task force that aims to tackle the problems of drones at airports.

Two groups, one for drones and one for airports, announced the drone-airport task force Tuesday. "While [drones] hold tremendous societal and economic benefits, occasional bad actors threaten to undermine the great progress we have made and even put responsible, legal ... operations in a negative light," Brian Wynne, chief executive of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said in a statement.

Along with Huerta, the task force includes representatives from airport operations in Memphis, Tennessee, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. It's also got a former FBI deputy director and an executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The AUVSI and the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) convened the panel.

Drones, also called unmanned aerial systems (UAS), offer an eye in the sky useful for business operations like inspecting oil refineries and photographing real estate. Startup Zipline is delivering medicine with drones, and Project Wing, the drone delivery business from Google parent Alphabet, was certified in April by the FAA as an airline. Videographers also like the fresh perspective drones can bring to events and movies.

But the inexpensive aircraft can pose problems near airports when drone operators ignore airspace restrictions or don't know about them.

London's Gatwick airport shut down for a day because of a drone sighting in 2018, and in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration halted some flights at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey after a pilot's drone sighting in 2019.

The airport-drone task force plans to issue recommendations for airports and law enforcement that need to handle drone incidents. And for the longer-term challenge, it'll develop policy details for dealing with incursions and rule enforcement. Ultimately, the work should apply also to other sites, like sports stadiums, prisons, military bases and national landmarks.