The UK’s Gatwick Airport and security services have proved woefully unable to deal with a drone threat at Gatwick Airport, with 10,000 passengers facing delays and disruptions on 19 December.
Flights in and out of the airport were suspended at about 9pm on 19 December after two drones were sighted near the airfield. The chaos has continued into 20 December and local, Sussex Police described it as “a deliberate act to disrupt the airport”.
Social media was awash with passenger complaints at lack of information and the chaotic situation.
According to the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), there were already 117 near misses between manned aircraft and drones up until November this year, compared to 93 for the whole of 2017.
“We are extremely disappointed that passengers are being affected by this, especially at such an important time of year. We are prioritising the welfare of those at the airport by deploying staff into our terminals to look after people as best we can,” said an airport spokesperson.
The scale of the chaos could lead to restrictions on drones. Only seven people have been prosecuted in five years in the UK for drone offences unrelated to prison use.
Aviation minister Baroness Sugg said: “Once this event is closed the police will be investigating fully and of course we will be looking at our response and also working with airports to avoid such an incident in the future.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said those found endangering aircraft could face up to five years in jail.
Mark Jones, Head of RUAS Unmanned Aviation Services, told CMW: “It’s frustrating to see any miss-use of drone technology, however situations like this one could be avoided through the use of counter drone technology and drone detection guidance. Counter drone technology can provide users with early warnings of a drone’s presence, it can track a drone’s route and pinpoint the location of the operator, enabling ongoing drone activity like we are seeing [at Gatwick] to be prevented and the pilot to be located and dealt with by local police forces quickly and effectively.”
The UK’s current rules on drones say that:
- Drones must be in line of sight at all times
- Drones must not go within 50m of people, vehicles or buildings
- Drones must not fly higher than 122m or within 1km of an airport.