Amid a spate of drone disruptions across international airports over the past year, a new report from Willis Towers Watson presents an action plan for the APAC region on handling this looming threat. 

Drone disruption at Asian airports is likely to increase in “frequency, complexity and severity”, according to advisory firm Willis Towers Watson, as the company announced its new drone disruption action plan.

The global advisory firm and broker has outlined a plan for airport operators facing the threat of illegal drone activity.

It says operators need to develop a single internal reporting point for drone sightings, engage early with airlines, and undertake emergency drills on a “regular basis”.

The company believes pre-planned decision-making channels, early liaison with multi-agency partners, keeping passengers and stakeholders informed, and early engagement with operators can also help in a crisis event.

The guidance comes amid a spate of drone disruptions across international airports over the past year. There were close to 290 drone incidents in the UK alone between 2016 and 2018, and a notable incident disrupted London’s Gatwick Airport for several days in December 2018.

Singapore’s Changi airport suffered significant disruption due to drone activity in June, disrupting dozens of flights and causing chaos for airlines, passengers and operators. An incident on 25 June affecting 25 flights was the second in a week.

Jago Harvard-Walls, client relationship director and transportation lead in Asia for Willis Towers Watson, says preparation and effective risk management are crucial for airport operators. He believes strong reputation management can also mitigate the impact of drone incidents.

Harvard-Walls added: “Drone-related incidents at airports may be a recent phenomenon, but they are expected to increase in frequency, complexity and severity as drones become larger and more powerful. 

“Airports need to prepare for potential attacks through effective risk management, and there are a number of steps that airports can take to prepare for these scenarios. This includes assessing, locating and understanding the type of drone that has infringed airspace, as well as reputation management.”

The report also lays out the financial impact of drone disruption. Willis Towers Watson says there are three ways drone incidents can cause financial loss; damage to physical assets, interruption to business and loss of revenue, and action taken against airport operators by third parties.

Property damage insurance may go some way to covering physical damage, but if a drone has a weapon, such as an explosive, attached, it may become a terrorism event, requiring terrorism insurance. Willis Towers advises clients to check terrorism policies as they can distinguish ‘malicious’ attacks from ‘terrorist’ events.

The advisory firm says managing drone risk effectively “requires the engagement and collective expertise of the sector to help build a more resilient airport industry”. Willis Towers Watson says its Airport Risk Community initiative, designed to help operators tackle risk together, can help to establish best practice and risk mitigation strategies.

Scott Burnett, CEO of Willis Towers Watson’s corporate risk & broking business in Asia, says the ARC can help “identify emerging people and asset risks alongside innovative solutions so that the airport sector can build operational resilience, support sustainability and innovation to tackle industry risks”.

Burnett said drone attacks and disruption incidents were becoming more sophisticated.

“Members from our ARC are very concerned about the growing use of drone technology to disrupt and interfere with airport safety. As we have seen with the recent events in Gatwick and Singapore, and the subsequent re-routing of flights, drone technology is increasingly sophisticated and causes extensive disturbance.

“It is therefore essential that we help our clients to understand what risk mitigation strategies need to put in place to help airports handle the disruption caused by drones,” Burnett added.