In the period from August 21, 2015 and January 31, 2016 there were 583 drone sightings in United States airspace according to the Federal Aviation Administration, with nearly 100 of those within restricted airspace around airports. Pilots often report drones coming within close proximity of a plane, the danger being that a drone could be sucked into an engine and cause it to fail or go through a cockpit window, injuring or killing a pilot; much like a bird (In 2013 there were 11,590 such collisions). Piloting a drone in these areas is both illegal and potentially deadly. Most incidents have occurred in California, Florida, Texas, and the New York metro areas. The Department of Homeland Security even issued a warning after two close encounters near JFK Airport in New York Citylast fall.
This issue is not only in the United States; with the prevalence and dissemination of a variety of drones in size and ever lowering cost, it is an issue around the world. To combat the issues of birds, airports have deployed explosives, animal traps, and other animals such as dogs, pigs, and birds of prey. One approach to combatting drones is borrowing the technique of using falcons and eagles to turn drones into prey. Other possible options to stop illegal drones include jamming frequencies to cut signals and force drones to land (not proven to have worked yet), or to have a larger drone capture the illegal drone with a net, like the Tokyo police (hoping not to miss).
The Dutch National Police Corp announced on January 31, 2016 that they would opt for the first option, of using birds of prey, which negates any human error of missing nets etc. The program is in partnership with a Dutch company, Guard from Above (GFA) in The Hague, that trains birds of prey. The company has released video of golden eagles successfully taking down drones. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, golden eagles typically prey on smaller mammals, but are capable of fighting off bears or coyotes to defend their young or food. And according to HawQuest, “A Bald Eagle’s grip is about ten times stronger than a human hand and can exert upwards of 400 psi…”; a female golden eagles’ strength is estimated at around 450 psi, so taking down a quadrocopter or other drone should not be a problem. While birds of prey may be a solution for our nations airports, they could also be useful for protecting military airfields, particularly because helicopters are as, if not more, vulnerable to drones bringing them down if contact were to be made.