The aviation industry has been grappling with the threat of birds strikes around major airports for decades. Griffin, Young, and Stanton (2015) explain that although many countries around the world have formulated ways of dealing with this problem, a new one has just emerged in the form of drones. The fact that birds have caused catastrophic accidents in the aviation sector means that drones, which are largely made of metals, may pose even a greater threat to this industry. In the United Arab Emirates, the aviation sector is playing a critical role in boosting trade, tourism, and various other sectors of the economy.
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As such, safety and security measures cannot be compromised in an effort to ensure that catastrophic accidents and incidents are eliminated. Chittum (2017) argue that that the rapid growth in the number of unmanned aerial aircrafts in the hands of civilians within the region is alarming. Some of these individuals use these drones close to airports, which poses a serious threat to aircrafts. In this paper, the researcher seeks to discuss security threats that the aviation industry faces from the increasing usage of drones by civilians.
Discussion of Findings
When drones first emerged, it gained massive relevance in military operations. According to Ritter, Baxter, and Churchill (2014), one of the areas of operations where drones proved critical was in conducting surveillance on enemy territories. These unmanned aerial crafts have the capacity of transmitting live data that they collect from regions where they are directed. Their usage meant that military officers no longer had to make physical visits to volatile regions to understand what the enemy was doing.
Further technological advancements made it possible for these drones to become missile launchers (Bibel & Hedges, 2018). Instead of risking lives of soldiers, drones can be controlled remotely to deliver drones that target enemy camps. This gadget still plays a critical role in the military and security sector. However, it has also gained massive popularity in the civilian sector.
Drones are currently used for purposes of recreation and other important missions. Stevens (2014) believes that playing with drones is rapidly becoming one of the most popular games among children and teenagers. In an era where outdoor games are becoming less popular with children, the use of drones has become a perfect alternative that is replacing kites. Drones are also finding relevance in the business sector.
International Civil Aviation Organization (2018) explains that the device has become an effective means of delivering letters and small parcels from one place to another within a short period. It is gaining popularity as a means of delivering parcels because it is economical compared with other means of transport. Others are using it to help in the surveillance of their land to detect intruders or the progress of their crops. It means that drones are important to both the military and civilian users.
Despite this growing relevance of drones, Kilroy (2018) notes that it poses security threats to the aviation sector. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has already warned of the dangers that drones pose to civilians. Minor incidents of planes encountering drones as they land or take off have been reported in different parts of the world, but such cases are likely to get worse if the current trend continues.
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According to a report by Chittum (2017), about 300,000 drones are released to the market every month. It means that within a year, millions of drones are sold to civilians and they all have to take to the sky as intended by the buyers. Such a huge number of drones mean that the threat is not just near the airport but also places far away, from where plans land or take off. Small aircrafts such as Cessna, Beechcraft, and helicopters with low flying range can encounter these drones, which may lead to catastrophic outcome. It is important to identify specific risks that drones pose to aircrafts.
The biggest threat that drones poses to the aviation sector is the possibility that they can be under the control of terrorists. The United States, the United Kingdom, and other developed countries have been putting in place measures that can help protect them from potential attack by terrorists. In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has also been keen on ensuring that it protects its residents and properties from attacks. One of the most vulnerable places in the country is the airport. Dubai International Airport is considered the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic (Michaelides-Mateou & Mateou, 2016).
When terrorists target such an airport, the impact on life and the economy of the country can be devastating. The fact that the government may not have the information about everyone in the country that has joined radicalised groups; it is possible for these drones to land in the hands of criminals. The can then use these drones to launch attacks on places frequented by masses.
The ability of cybercriminals to hijack these unmanned aerial vehicles is another major concern. Even if the government comes with policies that will ensure that only individuals who have been vetted and confirmed to be of good conduct can own these drones, it is still possible for criminals to hijack these drones and use them terrorise the country. Their best targets are always the airport where they feel that the magnitude of the impact will be devastating. Stevens (2014) explains that using sophisticated cyber-technologies, a criminal may take control of a large number of civilian drones and use them to launch a massive attack on their target. The fact that such an incident has not been reported does not mean it cannot happen. As the number of these gadgets continues to increase in the country, the threat that terrorists to launch attacks can use them continues to grow.
Surveillance conducted by criminals is another major concern that is associated with the increasing number of drones in the hands of civilians. According to Bibel and Hedges (2018), most of the drones are fitted with camera that can remotely transmit images that they capture in real time. Airports are some of the most sensitive areas that often operate in utmost secrecy. Criminals often target these locations to ensure that they can smuggle drugs or other illegal products.
As such, some of them often consider using drones to conduct their surveillance to identify areas of weakness that they can exploit. The problem is that some of them often have worse intention of using the information to facilitate their attack. They will know when major aircrafts land or take off, the path that they often use, and the best way of coordinating an attack, that would have the desired impact (Griffin, Young, & Stanton, 2015). Such information in the hands of civilians, some of who are criminals or members of radicalised groups, seriously compromises security in this sector.
The spying device can also be used to monitor communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. Information management is one of the most important aspects of the aviation security. According to Kilroy (2018), it has been confirmed that drones can be used to intercept communication between crew and air traffic controllers when it is properly configured and placed in a strategic location. Sometimes the hacker may not be a criminal with ill intentions. They can be curious individuals who may be interested in knowing how pilots communicate with the ground crew, especially in times of distress.
The problem is that such interceptions may affect smooth communication between the pilot and air traffic controllers. Depending on the severity of the interference and the magnitude of the distress that the aircraft may have, an accident can occur primarily because of the miscommunication between the two parties. Michaelides-Mateou and Mateou (2016) believe that such interference in communication may even result in an accident in cases where there was no distress. For instance, the ground crew may change instructions issued earlier about the need for an aircraft to change the landing route or abbot taking off because of new developments. When drones are used to disrupt such critical information, a pilot may end up executing a manoeuvre that has devastating consequences.
High profile individuals often fly in secrecy as a way of protecting their security. It is common to find cases where heads of states arrive earlier or later than had been previously scheduled at international airports (Ritter, Baxter, & Churchill, 2014). Creating a sense of unpredictability makes it difficult for criminals and terrorists to execute an attack. However, drones are proving to be game changes as these criminals can monitor the skies to obtain the information they need. These drones will not only provide information about when the planes of these dignitaries are approaching but also the path they have taken and the kind of security in the air and on the ground. Having such information may not make it easy for them to execute attack, but it improves success rates significantly.
Then there is the risk of civilians using these drones to lose control of their device. Just like any other electronic device, it is common for them to break down. Chances are often high that they can malfunction when they are under operation (Custers, 2016). Such incidences are becoming increasingly common because those who use these devices may not know when it is necessary to take them for repair. They wait for them to break down before they can consider having them repaired.
Uncontrollable drone may pose a serious threat to aircrafts, especially when they are close to the airport (Stevens, 2014). A similar problem may emerge when the person in control of the device lacks the relevant skills to execute the right manoeuvres. Kilroy (2018) observes that these devices are becoming preferred toys for teenagers and young children. Some irresponsible parents would purchase these drones and allow their children to control them without proper guidance. A child may not understand the magnitude of risk that these devices pose to aircrafts.
Fear of the unknown is another major challenge that stakeholders in the aviation sector are grappling with as they focus on addressing threats posed by drones. According to Custers (2016), technology is changing rapidly and with it, highly sophisticated criminals have emerged. Cyber attack is currently costing different institutions around the world billions of dollars in lost funds and data manipulation. In the aviation sector, it is not clear to many what criminals can do with their newly gained power to have remote control of drones. These unmanned aerial vehicles are becoming larger and with greater capacity to make dangerous manoeuvres (Stevens, 2014).
The increase in size means that they can have major impact on their targets. They can also carry explosives that can be used to target and destroy aircrafts. On July 17, 2014, Ukrainian militia shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 destined to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, killing all the 298 people on board the plane. No one has been held accountable for the crime. Drones may become their next weapon of choice if measures are not taken to help address the problem.
Another major challenge that the aviation sector faces is the inability to determine the authorities that should be specifically concerned with the regulation of the drones. In the United States, it is still not clear whether the responsibility should be with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Federal Aviation Administration (Stevens, 2014). In many other countries around the world, there is a conflict of interest among the military, internal security organs, and aviation authorities. Lack of clear policy regulations and proper coordination mechanisms has created a gap that can be exploited by these criminals.
The gap emerged because of the unprecedented growth in the use of drones over the past few years. Kilroy (2018) notes that the relevant authorities had not anticipated that these drones may become a security nightmare to the aviation sector.
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Drones have gained massive relevance in the society, and it is unlikely that they may be eliminated from the skies. In fact, the current trends show that their number is likely going to increase. However, the immense threat that they pose to the aviation sector cannot be ignored. It is important to find ways of dealing with the problem in a way that would protect the interest of the users of these gadgets without compromising on the security of the aviation industry. Relevant agencies should take appropriate measures that would ensure that skies used by planes remain free from obstruction by these drones. The following mitigation recommendations should be considered to ensure that such problems are eliminated.
The government needs to enact policies that would clearly define the entity responsible for controlling drones in the hands of civilians. As shown in the discussion, currently there is confusion about the authority that should be enacting policies and enforcing them. The situation has created a gap that can be exploited by criminal-minded individuals. According to Kilroy (2018), it is necessary to have a specific agency that should be empowered to regulate the use of drones among civilians.
The agency should register all drones used in the country and inform their owners about safety needs, especially in places close to airports. The government agency assigned the role of regulating the use of drones should remind members of society that it is a criminal offense to use unregistered drones in the country. Registration is meant to enhance responsible use of these unmanned aerial vehicles. The government will be able to trace every drone that is flown against the set regulation to specific individuals.
The government needs to enact laws that criminalise using of drones to conduct surveillance in airports and their immediate environment. Civilians should know that using their drones to collect unauthorised data might lead to a jail term. The relevant agency should be empowered to enforce these laws once they are created to protect the airspace. When a new law has been created, relevant government authorities should then use mass and social media platforms to create awareness among citizens. They need to know the restriction that exist when using these devices and why these restrictions are important.
As Custers (2016) observe, the sensitisation program should be a reminder that although the government has no problem with civilians using drones for business or recreational purposes, there is the need to protect the industry. As such, those who consider it necessary to use these devices must be willing to maintain the required safety issues.
The government needs sophisticated system of monitoring movements of drones within the airports and paths taken by planes. As Kilroy (2018) observe, relevant agencies in the local aviation industry should have the capacity to take control and confiscate drones that are flown in areas that they pose a threat to the aviation industry. The government should have the capacity to trace owners of such drones and prosecute them for failing to observe the law when using these devices. When people are prosecuted for irresponsible use of drones, the society will realise the need for them to use these devices responsibly.
They will realise that they can be held personally accountable for damages caused by their actions. The ability of the government to trace individual owners of these drones will also enhance a sense of responsibility. It will be a reminder to everyone that individuals cannot act anonymously when using drones.
The country needs to find effective ways of fighting cybercrime as it poses the biggest threat to the aviation industry. Drones are always controlled remotely and some used to carry parcels from one location to another may travel for several kilometres away from the point of origin. It means that cybercriminals can hack into the control system and hijack the drone for personal reasons. These criminals can then use such devices launch attacks on airports and planes. O’Cathain (2015) argues that it is necessary for the relevant agencies to get an immediate alert when a civilian has lost control of their drone so that its movement can be monitored remotely.
To achieve such a goal, there is a need for a close coordination between drone users and agencies regulating the industry. As the number of drones continues to increase, the work of monitoring these drones may get increasingly complex. It may require the need to have integrated technological systems that to achieve the desired goals. The authority may need to ensure that it can monitor all drones and that it can define their path whenever it is necessary. It would mean that the authority would have to take over control of any drone that is viewed as posing a significant risk to the airport or planes.
The invention of drones has had a major impact in various sectors of the economy. It gained massive popularity in the security sector when it first emerged. The drone became a major tool that military officers used to gather critical data that would inform their operational decisions. It evolved and became a useful tool in launching missiles, especially in regions where it was considered too risky to use human piloted planes.
Drones have gained relevance among civilians as new non-military models continue to emerge. As shown in the discussion above, the civilian drones are used in various contexts. They deliver letters and parcels from one location to another. They are also used to shoot aerial photos and videos in the entertainment industry.
Despite the significance of this device to the society, it poses a major risk to the aviation sector. Cases of accidental collision of a drone and planes may become widespread as the number of drones continues to increase in the global airspace. Drones can also be used to conduct surveillance in the airports in a way that may compromise security of people and property. They can also be used to carry explosives that can be used to attack planes and airports. The growing extremism in different parts of the world is a major concern, as there is the fear that terrorists can now use the device to launch their attacks. Although such incidents have not been witnessed, a possible eventuality may have devastating consequences to the aviation sector.
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