Specific problem - Group 4 - 2018/2019, Semester B, Quartile 3

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Specific problem

In this section, we elaborate on the specific problem we want to consider. Comparing the specific problem to the general problem, the specific problem considers a particular context and environment. This was done in order to limit the scope of the problem.

Specific problem description

As described in the `Approach' Section, we expected the societal issue of unwanted UAV presence to be divisible into multiple subcategories. Following our initial literature study, we indeed found this to be the case. There are many axes along which the problem space can be divided. For example, we might consider a division based on the nature of the cause of a drone incident, and as such whether it was caused by human failure or technical failure. Another possible distinction can be given based on the specific part of society that is impacted, whether it be the privacy of individuals when a camera-equipped UAV flies over their backyard, or the safety of a group of users when there are UAVs present around an airfield. When we consider the existing legal regulations, another commonly occurring division is that between human-controlled and autonomous UAVs.

This realisation leads us to formulate a more specific problem definition with a smaller scope. In our study, we consider possible deterrents against unwanted UAV presence around airports. This includes studying the current legal regulations considering UAVs, both in general and more explicitly considering airports. The term UAV is also divisible into multiple subcategories; for this study, we take all sub-types of UAV into account. These specific sub-types will be further discussed in the following Section.

As can be observed in the image below, the number of drone-related incidents has risen dramatically over the last few years. The reason for this is that technology and its evolution moves faster than regulators, whose job is to maintain safety standard when confronted with ever-evolving aspects of technology. Regulations require extensive research into the technology it should apply to, and these regulations also take time to roll out. In the meantime, the technology in question does not stop evolving and by the time regulations take effect, the technology in question has often already evolved beyond the scope of the regulations. Different categories of drones, which will be further discussed later, pose different threats to aeroplanes. One might hit the windscreen of an aeroplane, posing a direct danger to the pilots and therefore the plane's passengers, or a drone might get sucked into the air stream entering the plane's engines and ultimately destroy a turbojet motor propelling the plane.

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Figure 1. Airprox reports involving drones and other objects.

Because different types of drones and different types of airports exist, there are multiple types of incidents to consider. All of these are factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding which drone countermeasure should be applied in a particular situation. This means that anyone drone countermeasure is doubtful to work in a majority of situations, and care should be taken when choosing which countermeasure to invest in. A 'geo-fencing' system, which prevents commercial drones from entering certain no-fly zones, might be bypassed or disabled, not correctly implemented by the third party drone manufacturer, or include a multitude of other problems. A drone that launches a net to disable other drones might be difficult to operate and has many downtimes after it fails to take out another drone. When the safety standard is high, the ones at airports are exceptionally so; this becomes a difficult problem. It is not a simple decision to choose which drone countermeasure should be applied.

Examples of financial consequences

It is essential to consider the financial consequences of the problems proposed in the specific problem description. Let us review a recent example that sparked the controversy regarding drone interception even more. The drone activity that obstructed flights in and out of London’s Gatwick airport for 33 hours cost airlines an estimated £50 million ($64.5 million)[1]. This estimate of £50 million is based on EasyJet’s disclosure that it lost £15 million ($19.3 million) in revenue and customer welfare combined during the 33 hours long illegal drone activity. Easyjet further stated that the drone incident was a wake-up call for airports. Not only Gatwick but also other airports are now plotting to try to enhance its response to any similar threats that may occur in the future. Gatwick’s flight interruptions affected about 140,000 people, where 82,000 of them were EasyJet customers.

In July 2017, Dubai International Airport was shut down temporarily due to illegal drone activity. The costs of the shutdown were roughly $100,000 a minute according to Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) estimates[2]. ESMA has introduced new regulatory standards for commercial and recreational use of drones, which includes a monitoring system for detecting UAVs in the country. In 2017, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) head of airspace safety, Michael Rudolph, told Arabian Business that they were planning on testing their indigenously developed spectrum analysis technology to track threats of rogue drones and pinpoint their locations. With this, it would be possible to attack the rogue drones. In Dubai, it is now obligatory for all drone operators to apply for a license and undergo a training program. Since the illegal drone incidents, several new no-fly zones have been introduced by the General Civil Aviation Authority.

In January 2019, Heathrow Airport had closed its runway after a possible drone sighting. This happened three weeks after the Gatwick fiasco, in which the airport was closed for 36 hours after multiple drone sightings had occurred. Around 140,000 travellers were impacted after 1,000 flights were cancelled or diverted. No numbers regarding the costs have been given, but we can only assume that these costs were relatively high but not as high as the estimated cost of Gatwick's incident. All in all, these are just a few examples of how tremendous the financial consequences of illegal drone activity around airports can be.

State of the Art

Again, in order to gain more insights regarding the specific problem, we add additional information to the State of the Art that was started for the general problem description. We further build upon it in this section.

Specific USE aspects

In this section, we consider the users, society, and enterprise when considering the specific problem description.


When we take a look at the users in the more specific context of considering solutions against unwanted UAVs at and around airports, we see a shift in the types of users compared to the previously defined users in the more general setting. We see that mainly non-governmental organisations such as airports and airlines are the users of this more specific setting instead of the government, which was one of the users in our general setting. These types of users are also part of the use aspect `enterprise' and will be elaborated on in more detail in the corresponding section below. Indirectly, also passengers of flights are users of solutions against unwanted UAVs at and around airports, as passengers benefit from such solutions since they just want to be able to travel without any hindrance. Again passengers of flights is a type of users that overlaps with the use aspect 'society' and will be elaborated on in more detail in the section below. Lastly, companies with the intent/goal to intercept or detect flying objects such as UAVs are, to some extent, users of solutions against unwanted UAVs.


Let us take a closer look at how this specific problem description is relevant when we consider a society concerning airports. If a UAVs enter the air space of an airport, aeroplanes are not allowed to land at the airport nor are they allowed to leave the airport. Therefore, airports have placed a ban on the usage of UAVs around the airport in order to make sure that aeroplanes can still land and leave the airport. As one might already know, a tremendous number of people visit airports every day. In 2017, Schiphol airport, located in Amsterdam, already counted 68 515 425 passengers[3]. One can already imagine how enormous the consequences can be if this airport cannot be used for a few days. This means that if a UAVs flies by for whatever reason, a large number of people will not be able to travel. This results not only in many angry travellers but also in airport companies that have to compensate these travellers for the delays introduced by these UAVs.

From a societal perspective, this would mean that all travellers have a risk of their flight being delayed, which is undesirable due to many reasons as elaborated on previously. As of now, we have only considered the situation where a UAV simply flies by but what if this UAV has malicious intentions. For example, what if this UAV has been weaponised and is used by terrorists or a specific individual with malicious intentions and is used to wreak havoc at the airport. Then, these weaponised UAVs could be extremely dangerous as they could result in mass-killings. This would be a colossal disaster, and this should be avoided at all cost. A disaster is not only bound to happen when we consider weaponised UAVs. A disaster could also occur when the systems of the airport do not detect one of these UAVs. This UAV could then end up damaging the aeroplane, which could result in perilous situations. For example, we can expect disastrous situations when a UAV gets stuck in the motor of an aeroplane. All things considered, UAVs cannot only be hazardous to society when operated by malicious attackers, but they can also introduce many annoyances.


When we restrict the USE case analysis to only deterrents against unwanted UAVs or drones around airports, the enterprise aspect of the use analysis becomes more concrete. The main type of enterprise that is under risk is the airport branch. The total revenue of the aviation industry in 2018 alone is a staggering 821 billion USD[4], so there are huge amounts of money at risk here. The current protocol is to suspend all flights of the airport by 30 minutes, the average lifespan of a drone. This means that, should drones occur often enough, all flights will be suspended for an indefinite amount of time[5]. This will, of course, have huge costs for multiple branches of the aviation industry. The three most notable branches in our opinion are the airports, the airlines and the companies who use aviation to transport goods. For these three enterprise branches, we will analyse the consequences of such an unwanted drone near an airport.


Airports suffer the largest loss in the case of such a drone in the airspace, which makes sense since it is where the problem is located. The airports suffer huge financial losses mainly through three different ways. First and foremost, no profits can be made when no planes fly. For example, the drone incident at Gatwick Airport caused a loss of over 50 million English Pounds[6]. This was caused by suspending all flights, which were just over 400, over the total duration of 33 hours. The airport suffers a huge blow to their reputation. So the hourly financial losses are huge for airports when flights must be suspended due to drones in the area. Furthermore, should one airport consistently suffer from the presence of unwanted drones, both airlines and travellers might opt to choose a different airport. The other airport might be farther away, but it will be a more reliable airport. This would result in a drop in total passengers at the airport.


Airlines such as RyanAir, KLM or EasyJet also suffer huge losses during the event of a drone suspending or cancelling flights. The airlines are the companies actually offering flights to travellers. What also causes more losses for airlines is that they have to compensate the travellers for the delay or cancellation of their flights. By European Law, airlines are required to provide travellers with enough food, drinks, and nightly accommodations for as long as necessary[7]. For a long, sudden suspension of flights at one place, which is the case in our problem, this also becomes an enormously difficult task for an airline. If the airline would not act accordingly, the airline could also suffer from a huge reputation loss, resulting in travellers not flying with that airline anymore. Furthermore, the travellers are also eligible for financial compensation by European Law[7]. Airports.

Another aspect of this branch are the employees of the airlines. Apart from the company as a whole, the employees, such as flight attendants and pilots, suffer significantly from such an airline 'shutdown'. This is because of the way that the employees get paid. They do get a baseline salary, but the most salary they receive come from the hours that they are actually in the plane either flying or aiding passengers[8]. If the planes do not fly, they suffer from a huge salary cut, which means that the whole branch of airline employees have financial losses.

Companies who transport goods via aviation

Another enterprise that suffers from delaying and cancelling of flights at an airport are transport companies. In general, these goods are transported with different aeroplanes than passenger aeroplanes, but cargo is usually transported with passengers in the same aeroplane [9]. Besides, cargo aeroplanes also frequently fly to airports just for packages, since restaurants, shops, e.g. are not necessary there, decreasing airport costs. However, these airports can also be subjected to an unwanted drone in the airspace. Again, the protocol is that the aeroplane will not land and thus will be either delayed or cancelled. This can have dire consequences for such companies. The delay of their goods usually set off a chain reaction of consequent delays, which can be devastating if the timing is crucial. In conclusion, the consequence of these delays for these companies is huge financial losses and huge logistic issues to fix the delays of their goods.

Back to the root page.


  1. Hallie Detrick, Gatwick's December Drone Closure Cost Airlines $64.5 million http://fortune.com/2019/01/22/gatwick-drone-closure-cost/
  2. Shutting down Dubai International Airport due to a drone costs $100,000 a minute https://www.arabianbusiness.com/content/375851-drone-costs-100000-minute-loss-to-uae-airports
  3. Traffic and transport figures https://www.schiphol.nl/en/schiphol-group/page/transport-and-traffic-statistics/
  4. "International Aviation Transport Industry: Fact Sheet", December 2018. Retrieved on 11-02-2019.
  5. "CNN: How can a drone bring an airport to a standstill?", December 2018. Retrieved on 11-02-2019.
  6. "The Independent: Gatwick drone disruption cost over £50 million", January 2019. Retrieved on 11-02-2019.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "European Aviation Laws", November 2018, Retrieved on 11-02-2019
  8. "Huffpost: Why flight attendants hate delays more than you", July 2016, Retrieved on 11-02-2019
  9. "Loyalty Travels: Why Do Flights Get Delayed – 15 Reasons Why Your Next Flight May Be Delayed", 2018, Retrieved on 12-02-2019