The Economic Impact of Airport Drone Incidents on Local Communities

March 15, 2023 | Ilana Brodesky

Civil aviation provides the means of transporting millions of passengers and tons of goods to all corners of the globe. In the U.S. alone, more than 5,000 public-use airports support tens of thousands of flights each and every day. From vacations to business meetings, overnight delivery of goods to traffic monitoring — civil aviation is an essential part of everyday life and global commerce, and airports play a major role as communities rely on smooth airport operations.

Drones are becoming increasingly popular and affordable, and while authorized drones bring many benefits to society, they can also pose a serious threat to aviation safety and security. When drones fly near airports without authorization, they can interfere with air traffic control, collide with an aircraft, or even be used for malicious attacks. When drones disrupt airport operations, flights must be delayed or cancelled, affecting hundreds of thousands of passengers and airlines.

The 2018 drone disruption at London Gatwick airport disrupted about 1,000 flights, affecting more than 140,000 passengers. The economic loss of the 33-hour disruption was estimated at approximately €55.8 million, primarily to airlines. The list of airport operations being disrupted due to drone activity is growing every day, with Dublin Airport the latest in the headlines, where there were six incidents in the past six weeks, with flights suspended due to drone disruption.

The Expanded Impact of Airport Drone Disruptions

Airports have become such large and central ecosystems that the impact of drone disruptions is felt not only by the airports and airlines themselves, but also by the communities they serve.  Let’s stop for a minute and discuss how an airport drone disruption affects the local community.

In the U.S. alone, there are countless State, County, and City reports analyzing airports’ economic local impact. As stated in the Long Beach Airport Economic Impact Study, ‘airports facilitate various economic activities that bring new money into the local economy.’  This new money generates revenues for the local community while supporting local jobs and providing incomes to local households.

An interesting perspective on an airport’s economic impact on its local community was issued by the Virginia Department of Aviation. The statewide economic impact report analyzes various impacts, including those that are more difficult to quantify. The report notes that the ‘economic impact of an airport can be classified into three impact categories: direct, indirect, and induced.’ All these aspects can be affected by drone disruptions that reduce airport efficiency and reliability.

When a local airport is shut down due to a drone disruption, the burden won’t fall only on the passengers of those specific flights affected, nor the airline.

The directly affected airport will also lose revenue by losing fees paid by airlines associated to landing or departing flights at that airport. Moreover, some people may choose to fly from another airport with less delays and cancellations, or airlines may choose other airports as their destination to ensure smooth flight operations. The loss in passenger traffic then will have induced effects on local employees that may not be needed anymore to conduct various jobs at that specific airport AND will affect businesses and a variety of vendors that depend on the airport for their activities.

As for airlines, they will accrue increased costs of operating expenses for crew, fuel, maintenance, etc., which may potentially lead to increased ticket prices and other services they provide to customers.

When airlines raise prices, what can we expect to see? Loss in demand.

Did you ever avoid flying and just drove somewhere instead? I did.

And many Americans did the same, especially during the pandemic. We did it for a variety of reasons, not just costs or delays, but, to prove a point – most can choose to drive if they want to. Another option is just to stay home.

While many air travelers choose to ‘hang in there,’ others may switch to alternative transportation modes such as automobiles (like I did), buses, or trains. Now we are dealing with additional road traffic that generates congestion, additional toll costs on other road users, and don’t mind me adding even more environmental impacts on society at large. That’s an indirect impact at its best.

Increases in airline fares affect not just the demand for leisure travel but also lead to higher costs of production for industries that rely on air transportation to conduct businesses, while the demand for products and services of such industries may, in turn – you guessed it right! decrease.

Time is money, and flight delays leave business travelers with less time to do their work and experience a loss in productivity and motivation.

Bottom Line: The Need for a Proper, Next-Gen Counter-Drone Solution

Drones are becoming more and more of a nuisance for airports in the U.S., as the number of drone incidents is increasing while effective countermeasures are still in their testing phase by FAA and TSA. The many drone incidents highlight the need for effective measures to prevent and respond to drone intrusions at airports. Some practical solutions include stricter regulations, enhanced detection and tracking systems, counter-drone technologies, and public awareness campaigns. By working together, airport operators, airlines, authorities, and drone users can ensure that drones are used safely and responsibly without compromising airport operations and their communities.

The ultimate question everyone should focus on is whether the investment in a C-UAS system at an airport is justifiable vis-à-vis the total costs experienced by airlines, airport operators, and local communities due to a complete shutdown.

The answer is quite simple: YES.

Traditional C-UAS solutions were NOT designed for airports. Some airports pay huge sums for systems that may not perform in such a sensitive environment, exposing themselves to a major threat – just like the incidents at Dublin airport.

Unlike traditional anti-drone solutions on the market, our counter-drone, cyber-detection flagship product, EnforceAir, seamlessly detects and tracks authorized and rogue drone threats, providing situational awareness along with a rich set of capabilities, including tracking drone location, home location, and drone operator location, accurately and in real-time. Airport personnel can then choose how to utilize the information to contend with the risk and achieve optimal operational continuity.

EnforceAir empowers airports to detect threats without excessive burden on human resources, disrupting communications systems or damaging existing infrastructure. EnforceAir can read unique identifiers per drone. Once a drone is tagged as ‘authorized,’ it is recorded on the authorized list and can fly undisturbed in defined areas of the airport. The system’s ability to distinguish between authorized and unauthorized drones ensures continuity for drones performing essential functions at the airport while providing preventative alerts for unauthorized drones, such as drone takeoff and pilot remote control locations, so authorities can deal with specific flights and dispatch appropriate personnel.

Air transportation relies on uninterrupted operations. EnforceAir’s proven capabilities help assure high likelihood that airport operations continue to run as usual. Continuity ensues as flights, communications, security, and everyday life in the area proceed smoothly.

Ilana Brodesky, ACE, IACE, is the Aviation and Airport Security Business Development Manager at D-Fend Solutions. She helps North American airport security teams understand the constantly changing threat posed by rogue drones and how to best detect and mitigate sUASs in the sensitive aviation environment.

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