As drone technology gets more advanced and more accessible to consumers, drones become an increased security threat to many different organizations. From incidents affecting global supplies to increased drone use by law enforcement, and changes to drone regulations; 2019 has been another eventful year for the drone industry.
Over the past year, the following was the top drone threats and concerns of 2019:
- Drones disrupting critical infrastructure
- Drones interfering with manned aircraft
- Drones smuggling drugs and contraband into prisons
Drones disrupting critical infrastructure
One of the biggest stories of the year relating to drone threats happened when drones attacked the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia. This attack exposed the fragility of a major global critical infrastructure. The attacks knocked out about 5% of global oil production immediately.
- Twenty-five drones and missiles were used in the attack that forced the kingdom to shut down half of its oil production.
- Two sites were hit — the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities — which took out 5.7 million barrels per day of crude.
The drone attack on Aramco Abqaiq and Khurai facilities on Saturday, August 14, 2019, knocked out 50% of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s (KSA) biggest asset, the largest oil production center in the world. The attack was well-coordinated, and initial sources said the attack was carried out by a swarm of drones.
This drone attack on the largest oil processing center in the world is a stark reminder of the continued need for airspace awareness and security. Read more to discover what went wrong in Saudi Arabia and what we can do in the future to protect the world’s critical infrastructures.
Drones interfering with manned aircraft
Airports across the globe have been grappling with drone threats. As drones become more commonplace, so do the reports of drones disrupting airspace and flights near airports.
This past year, we saw numerous reports of drones flying too close to passenger airliners and disrupting fire fighting rescue efforts. Drones not only interfere with life-saving activities and flights, but they could also lead to a dangerous near collision with an aircraft putting manned aircraft, pilots, and passengers in danger.
Top aircraft related drone incidents of 2019:
“Suspected drone activity” caused the Dubai International Airport (DBX) to ground all of its outbound flights for roughly 30 minutes. Dubai airport, the hub for airlines Emirates and flydubai, is among the world’s busiest airports for international travelers. In 2018, the airport saw more than 88 million passengers.
On Sunday, April 28, 2019, Gatwick Airport diverted three flights to Stansted Airport in Essex after a possible drone sighting. The three diverted flights landed at Gatwick more than 90 minutes after their scheduled arrival time.
An airliner carrying up to 186 passengers came 20ft away from potential disaster when a drone passed by shortly after take-off, the UK Airprox Board report revealed. The close call happened on May 19, 2019 just five months after drone sightings brought Gatwick to a standstill for 33 hours.
Singapore’s Changi Airport closed one of two runways for 10 hours after “confirmed sightings of drone flying in the vicinity of Changi Airport.” The runway closure affected departures and arrivals. Thirty-seven flights were delayed and one arrival flight was diverted to Kuala Lumpur’s airport.
On July 9, 2019, a Columbus Police helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing near Forest Park Elementary School. During a routine patrol, the crew spotted a drone flying at night above the legal altitude, flying too close and following the helicopter’s flight path.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the crew on a JetBlue flight on approach to Logan saw the drone just before 6 p.m. on Sunday, October 20, 2019, about two miles southeast of the airport. A state police spokesman said the drone was spotted at about 3,500 feet, higher than legally allowed.
On October 14, 2019, The Federal Aviation Administration says the Boutique Airlines Pilatus PC-12 reported seeing "an unmanned aircraft" at about 2,800 feet just 4.6 miles northeast of the airport just before 3 p.m. The crew aboard the plane reported seeing the drone off its right-wing.
On December 18, 2019, a remote-controlled Latitude HQ90B drone owned by the University of Iowa College of Engineering's Operator Performance Laboratory crashed into a lawn near the Iowa City airport. The drone weighed 100lbs, had a wingspan of 18-ft, and was valued at $300,000.
This drone pilot is lucky it didn’t seriously injure or kill someone. Incidents like this could be prevented by implementing simple flight safety precautions.
As rescue teams worked overnight to calm the fires spreading in Santa Paula, California, their efforts were halted due to irresponsible drone pilots trying to get a closer look at the rapidly growing fires. Firefighters had to make a risky decision: ground night-flying helicopters working to contain the fire or risk an aerial collision with a reckless drone.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, aerial firefighting efforts have been grounded at least nine times this year because of drone use, and at least 20 drone incursions have hindered firefighting capabilities nationwide from January through October.
Drones smuggling drugs and contraband into prisons
Across the nation, Prisons are seeing an uptick in the number of drones flying near correctional facilities. Drones are increasingly being used to deliver contraband such as drugs and cell phones to inmates.
Top prison related drone incidents of 2019:
Cuyahoga County Jail security cameras captured video of an inmate gathering up contraband that was dropped via a drone. The incident happened on June 21, 2019. In the video, you can see one inmate, who's outside for recreation with other inmates, as he starts wandering and staring up at the sky.
The VADOC reports that on August 25, 2019 a security staff member at Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, VA discovered the drone with attached package on the side of the road outside the prison. The drone was carrying $500 worth of marijuana, an eight ball of cocaine, a cell phone, three SIM cards, and a handcuff key.
Since January 2018, there has been at least 33 drones spotted near Virginia prison. All these incidents occurred at 15 of the state’s 27 “major institutions.”
Most of these sightings happened due to security staff spotting the drone in flight. Meaning the number of actual drone flights near Virginia prisons is most likely much higher due to drones flying at night or staff not seeing them.
Georgia man pleaded guilty to illegally operating an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to drop contraband into Autry State Prison, announced U.S. Attorney Charles "Charlie" Peeler.
Autry State Prison has had many issues with drone sightings, the Georgia Department of Corrections reported 200 drone sightings near Autry State Prison in 2018.
Law Enforcement: Responding to drone threats
Another big trend in 2019 was the increased use of drones by law enforcement agencies and first responders. Not only is law enforcement using drones as part of routine patrol operations, but they are also increasingly using drone detection to curb illegal drone use and issue subpoenas.
With more police departments using drones for daily operations, concerns over privacy have increased as well. To help diffuse concerns from the public, some police departments are looking at ways to better achieve public transparency.
One police department taking transparency seriously is the Chula Vista Police Department(CVPD). CVPD partnered with Airsight to use their drone detection software to track all drone flights launched by the Chula Vista police department. With the help of Airsight, CVPD is making its drone flight data publicly available on ps.911security.com.
Earlier this year, the FAA fined a drone pilot that flew over Las Vegas McCarran Airport with a $15,000 citation, and Las Vegas Metro PD won their first case in court on July 15, 2019. The police charged the pilot a $1000 fee, confiscated his drone, and put him on 6-month probation. Since July 2019, Airsight has responded to eight law enforcement subpoenas from Charlotte PD and Las Vegas PD. By working with local law enforcement, we can provide detailed data from our drone detection technology to help them regulate and charge those misusing drones.
Law enforcement agencies and first responders can benefit from drone detection and training. Earlier this year, we announced our joint effort to provide support to nationwide law enforcement training for drone response. Drone detection provides law enforcement agencies with actionable data to help them respond to drone threats and keep communities safer.
Federal and State Drone Regulations of 2019
In 2019, we have seen many announcements from the FAA in regards to drone regulations. The most prominent topic of the year was Remote ID. The federal government delayed Remote ID many times, and we are still waiting for the final outcome.
After many delays from the government and frustration from lawmakers, we have some semblance of progress. On December 20, 2019, the U.S. Office the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) finally concluded their regulatory review and approved the FAA proposal on Remote ID for drones.
Remote ID is seen by the government and industry as the cornerstone to enable advanced commercial use cases and technologies for UAS, including UAS Traffic Management (UTM).
As the federal government sorts out remote ID, many states adopted drone laws.
In 2019, many state governors signed new laws pertaining to drones. In Delaware, Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky the new laws dealt with drones flying over prisons to help combat contraband problems. In Tennessee, the new law sought to regulate flying drones over stadiums and made it illegal to use a drone to drop objects over crowds. We have seen this many times from Tracy Mapes, the individual responsible for dropping anti-media leaflets over two NFL stadiums, the California State Capitol Building, and an Ariana Grande concert.
Most significant Drone laws adopted by states in 2019:
Delaware Drone Law - Effective on signing date
Governor John Carney signed House Bill 30 behind the walls of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. With the new law, it’s now a class F Felony to deliver, or attempt to deliver, contraband into a Delaware prison by drone.
Kentucky (Effective June 27, 2019)
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed Kentucky Senate Bill 157 on March 25, 2019. The new law will make it a criminal act to fly a drone over a prison without prior authorization. The law defines a prison as a “key infrastructure asset,” and makes violations a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense, and a Class A misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense.
Florida (Effective July 1, 2019)
On June 18, 2019 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved House Bill 7057. This new law redefines the term "critical infrastructure facility" to include certain detention centers and correctional facilities for the purpose of restrictions on the operation of unmanned aircraft. This new provision makes it unlawful to fly over or near a prison or correctional facility in the state of Florida.
Georgia (Effective July 1, 2019)
On April 28, 2019, Georgia Governor Kemp signed SB6 into law which prohibits the use of UAS to deliver or attempt to deliver contraband to a place of incarceration. It also prohibits anyone from using drones to photograph any place of incarceration without permission of the warden or superintendent. Any person who commits or attempts to commit a violation will face a felony charge and jail time.
Nevada (Effective July 1, 2019)
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak approved and signed two drone bills into law.
AB83 is now Chapter 139.
This law makes it unlawful for anyone to harass game mammals or game birds through the use of a manned or unmanned aircraft. The law further outlines that it’s unlawful to shoot at any game mammal or game bird with a weapon from a manned or unmanned aircraft. It’s also unlawful to spot or locate game mammals or game birds with any kind of manned or unmanned aircraft to communicate that information, back to a person on the ground to trap or hunt.
SB421 is now Chapter 551.
This law will establish and carry out a program to facilitate the growth and safe integration of small unmanned aircraft systems in Nevada. The program will comply with all applicable federal statutes, rules and regulations.
Tennessee (Effective July 1, 2019)
In April 2019, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed two new laws about drones.
This law makes it a criminal act to drop items or substances from unmanned aircraft into an open-air event venue where more than 100 persons are gathered for a ticketed event. Violating the law will result in a Class C misdemeanor.
This law increases the penalty for using an unmanned aircraft over a critical infrastructure facility without the business operator's consent from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class E felony. The law also adds “communication service facilities” to the types of facilities that are considered critical infrastructure facilities.
Virginia (Effective July 1, 2019)
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam approved Virginia Senate Bill 1507 on March 22, 2019. This law amends an existing law related to drone use by law enforcement officers. The law adds to the ways law enforcement can use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) without a warrant. This law allows law enforcement officers to deploy an unmanned aircraft system to:
- survey a primary residence of the subject of the arrest warrant to formulate a plan to execute an existing arrest warrant or capias for a felony offense or,
- locate a person sought for arrest when such person has fled from a law-enforcement officer and a law-enforcement officer remains in hot pursuit of such person.