Wayward Drones Cause Chaos, Ground Dozens of Flights at Sichuan Airport
(Beijing) — More than a hundred commercial flights were postponed or forced to change routes last week due to rogue drones straying into airspace around China’s fourth-largest airport, raising concerns about regulation of the fast-growing sector.
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, located in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, experienced repeated interruptions from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over a seven-day period ending last Friday, forcing three passenger flights to reroute, four to return to their departure airports, and 92 to land in neighboring cities, stranding tens of thousands of passengers, the government-backed West China Metropolis Daily reported.
At least eight drones entered the flight control area, a 12-by-24-mile area surrounding the airport from which consumer UAVs are prohibited.
A white drone that entered the restricted zone Friday afternoon flew under a passenger jet as it came in to land, the report said.
A collision with a drone has the potential to create an impact-force equal to a cannonball strike, according to Beijing Capital International Airport.
Sichuan’s public security department is offering a reward of 1,000 yuan ($145) for anyone who reports airspace violations. In response to the spate of recent intrusions, the department raised the amount to 10,000 yuan.
But the small UAVs, which are increasingly being used for oil exploration, photography, product delivery and entertainment, are becoming a headache for regulators around the world.
In February, the pilot of an Air France flight landing in Washington Dulles International Airport reported a drone roughly 100 feet above the craft.
The experience “shakes you up,” he told NBC News.
In 2015, four such incidents occurred in the U.K., according to the British Airline Pilots Association.
In 2013, China issued policies requiring anyone flying drones heavier than seven kilograms to take a training course and pass a test administered by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of China (AOPA).
Most commercial drones are far lighter than the seven-kilogram threshold. For example, the bestselling Phantom series from China’s top UAV producer DJI weighs only about 1.3 kg.
The training and testing for operators take about a month, which is a burden for many, said Zhang Qihuai, a researcher at the Institute of Air and Space Law at the China University of Political Science and Law.
AOPA is now assigning local companies to conduct these sessions, which cost about 10,000 yuan, much more than the drones themselves, said He Zhikai, a senior engineer from the drone department at China Aero-polytechnology Establishment, a research center at the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
Alongside the strengthening of regulations, all major drone-makers now include upgraded location functions in their vehicles, forcing them to hover or land when near airport control areas, He said.
This function can be disabled by users, however, and there are drone sellers who offer such services, He said.
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