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A plane on one of the runways at Barajas Airport EFE
Drone and laser pointer incidents on the up at airports in Spain
Air travel

Drone and laser pointer incidents on the up at airports in Spain

On a number of occasions, the appearance of remote-controlled aircraft near the runways has forced flights to divert to other airfields

Melchor Sáiz-Pardo

Madrid

Tuesday, 2 January 2024, 17:00

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Laser lights pointed at the cockpits of aircraft or drones hovering near airport runways have sparked more than 1,700 incidents at Spanish airports in the past five years.

Despite a number of arrests, the threat of fines and warnings by the Ministry of Interior and Spain's national airport operator Aena, the irresponsible behaviour continues to pose problems for pilots, and has been on the increase in recent months, according to a parliamentary reply to EH Bildu MP Jon Iñarritu.

In the past five years, according to AESA (state aviation safety agency) data, there have been 1,728 incidents involving drones and lasers. In 2019, when drones were causing the most havoc, there were 132 complaints filed. In 2020 the number of incidents dropped to only 58, but since then they have risen every year: 68, 74 and 80 in the first eleven months of 2023.

Although a drone has never been involved in an accident in Spain, on eight occasions (2% of cases) they have had an "impact on airport operations" and caused a temporary stoppage of air traffic. Airports in Madrid, Ibiza, Jerez, Fuerteventura and Zaragoza have been forced to divert flights due to drones in the past five years.

The most serious incidents happened in 2020 at Barajas airport in Madrid, when up to 21 flights had to be diverted due to the appearance of a drone near the airfield.

Meanwhile, laser pointers have not caused any major operational incidents, but the presence of the annoying lights are on the increase, according to AESA. In the past five years, pilots have filed 1,316 complaints due to lasers. Of these, 298 were in 2019; 127 in 2020; 208 in 2021; 332 in 2022 and a record 351 between January and November last year.

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