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Attack of the drones: are eagles the answer?

Attack of the drones: are eagles the answer?

Recently, the Metropolitan Police have released that they are considering the use of eagles to tackle drones as concern arises for the security risk that they cause.

A clampdown on drones has been requested after four separate near-miss incidents occurred within a single month at UK airports, including one in a passenger aircraft taking of from London Stansted.  The pilot of the Boeing 737 aircraft explained that a 6ft long remote-controlled plane flew approximately 15ft above the flight path of the aircraft, at about 4,000ft.  This occurred in controlled airspace where drone flying is illegal.  Only 9 days later, the pilot of a Boeing 777 taking off from London Heathrow saw an 18-inch small drone passing “less than a wingspan” away from the aircraft.  Other incidents have been reported around both London City and Manchester airports.

Existing rules on drone flying restricts their use in built-up areas and in controlled airspace.  They should be restricted to flying below 400ft, and away from the vicinity of airports without first gaining air traffic control approval.  The UK Civil Aviation Authority rules state, “The operation of drones must not endanger anyone or anything.”  For more information on “The Drone-code”, the CAA have created a page for with more information: https://www.caa.co.uk/drones/

The UK Airprox Board (who are responsible for monitoring the threat of mid-air collisions in a bid to enhance air safety) in December investigated 6 incidents involving drones, 5 of which were classed as Risk A, the most serious bracket.  The report can be viewed here.  BALPA (The British Airline Pilots Association) have recently called for a registration system to be implemented, so that drones can be easily tracked and their owners identified if in breach of flying rules.  The US has already implemented a registration system for Americans who own drones, with the closing deadline for registering being this Friday, 19th February 2016.

So what can we do about policing this drone activity? The newest concept is to introduce eagles to intercept the drones in unwanted areas, such as airports and overhead prisons.  The Metropolitan Police have explained that they are interested in this idea after their dutch counter-parts have recently been trialling the use of the large birds.  A Met Police spokesman explained: "As would be expected in an organisation that is transforming, we take an interest in all innovative new ideas and will of course be looking at the work of the Dutch police use of eagles."  Below you can see the video that has been released showing how the eagles have been trained to grip the drones from the sky.

However, there are people who quite rightly worry about the safety of the birds.  Jemima Parry-Jones, who is the director of the International Centre of Birds of Prey in Gloucestershire, described the idea as a “gimmick".  She stated, ”Eagles are big, powerful birds; they should not be flown in built-up areas. Secondly, in terms of the safety of the bird, you're asking it to grab hold of a drone, which often have four rotating blades keeping it in the air.  If the police in the UK are asking the right experts, then they should listen to our advice.  If you don't believe us, try putting your own fingers into the propeller of a reasonably sized drone and see what happens."

A spokesman for the RSPCA said: "In principle we would not have an issue with police forces training eagles in an attempt to tackle drones, although we would have concerns over the welfare of the birds.  At the moment, however, there is not enough information available for us to be able to make an informed comment.”

So, is this concept just a "gimmick" or possibly a new, innovative venture to combat drones?  Only time will tell.