Three weeks ago, a drone was discovered near a runway at JFK airport during VIP movements for the United Nations General Assembly. Two weeks ago, a drone hit an Army Black Hawk helicopter over New York’s Staten Island, becoming the first confirmed in-flight collision of a drone and a piloted aircraft in the U.S. Last week, in a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee regarding threats to America, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Nicholas Rasmussen, highlighted the threat of terrorists using drones to drop explosives or unleash biological attacks on U.S. soil. Given the increasing availability and proliferation of drones in the U.S., the American Alliance of Airport Police Officers (AAAPO) calls on airport operators to be proactive in identifying solutions that can mitigate and prevent such incidents.
With more drones in the air, and more aircraft — and therefore more travelers — in the sky, the threat posed by drones to airplanes and airport operations must be taken very seriously.
As the American public becomes more comfortable interacting with and using drones in their daily activities, airports must proactively engage in counter-drone strategies to protect American airports before a major incident takes place. As part of the strategy, airport law enforcement must have the capability to both detect drones and locate their operators in order to apprehend those intentionally violating airport airspace, as well as to prevent or correct uninformed drone operators from doing the same.
“The threat of someone doing something bad with a drone here in the homeland is more real than ever. Since airports continue to be a top target for terrorists, we need to get ahead of this issue before it turns into something more disastrous,” says Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association and co-founder of the AAAPO. “The ability to not only find a drone in the air, but to also find the person operating that drone on the ground is a game changer in terms of law enforcement efforts. Our airports need to be thinking about how we can close this security gap before the next drone collision we read about is something more catastrophic.”
“These are the types of things that keep us up at night, because there are people around the world who are thinking of the very same things and are working to make them a reality,” says Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association and co-founder of the AAAPO. “Thankfully, the drone that crashed into the military helicopter over Staten Island did not result in any injuries, but this incident should be a wakeup call to everyone. What if the drone had crashed into a commercial jet approaching JFK or into one that was landing at Newark? What if it had an explosive or some type of chemical weapon attached to it?”