Disruption at one of the UK’s busiest airports, Gatwick, over the festive period, was caused by multiple drone sightings which led to a complete shutdown of flights both in and outbound. Approximately 1,000 flights were affected, causing chaos, misery and disappointment for thousands of passengers. The chaos was compounded by the incident happening so close to the run up to Christmas; the airport was forced to close between December 19 and 21st, and few could have imagined what problems such a careless act could create for so many people.
These incidents have given the British Government multiple headaches, to say the least, and they quickly began working on a package of measures to help combat the threat of drones in UK airspaces, some of which are detailed below:
Exclusion zone extensions:
Airport exclusion zones have now been extended to approximately a 5km radius, or 3.1 miles, and extra extensions have been applied to runway ends.
Registration for drone users:
Government ministers have since announced that those individuals operating drones weighing between 250g and 20kg, must register their UAV’s and take an online drone pilot competency test.
New powers for the police:
Minor drone offences are now punishable with a fixed penalty notice that the police have been given the authority to issue, ensuring immediate and effective enforcement of the new drone rules. Minor offences could range from an individual not complying with the police when instructed to land their drone, to not showing their registration to operate a drone, and could earn the accused a £100 fine.
Who was operating the drone(s)?
A couple were arrested on suspicion of being linked to the incident at Gatwick airport, but were later released without charge, and no further arrests have been made.
Police are continuing to question and investigate potential sightings of drones at the airport, made by 115 witnesses, some of which were staff working at the airport, police officers and even pilots.
The Transport Secretary for the UK, Chris Grayling, condemned the illegal flying of the drone and described it as: “deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal.” He went on to say that the Ministry of Defence would remain on standby until such time as the threat had passed or was no longer significant, as he tried to reassure MP’s that the UK’s national airports are doing everything in their power to be prepared for a repeat of the incident.
How real is the threat to airports from drone attacks?
MP’s involved in the Commons Defence Committee have given the stark warning that a Jihadist – or other such terrorist organisation – could easily use drones to launch a vicious and deadly attack at any number of the UK’s airports. Purchasing a simple device online is simple for most, and this could be flown with malicious intent, such as into the engine intakes of a plane that has just taken off or is about to land.
However, while this alleged drone incident caused travel chaos, thankfully nobody was harmed and the airport was able to reopen a few days later.