Updated: Feb 24
The facts of this case are still being collected and conclusion drawn, but between 19th and 21st December 2018, hundreds of flights were cancelled at Gatwick Airport after reports of drone sightings on the runway. The travel disruption was significant, lasting 33 hours and said to have affected 140,000 passengers and over 1,000 flights. A drone was reported by police to be “industrial” class, with over 90 reported public sightings although no videos or photographic evidence were handed over. The military was called in to deploy anti-drone equipment but were later withdrawn. A senior police officer suggested that it was a possibility that there had never been a drone, but this was taken back as a “miscommunication” by the government. A drone enthusiast and his partner were arrested on suspicion of disrupting civil aviation on December 21st but were released without charge on December 23rd. A damaged drone was recovered two miles away from the airport, but there has been no subsequent follow-up and unlikely to be related. With no conclusion made to this case, Gatwick Airport has offered a £50,000 reward leading to the arrest of the perpetrators.
Events such as this highlight the urgent need for clear rules on the use of drones near airports and how to potentially neutralize them. Gatwick Airport is believed to have spent £5 million on a system that jams communication between a drone and its operator – a type of counter unmanned air system (C-UAS). The current exclusion zone for drones around UK airfields and airports is 1km, but drone operators are strongly advised to remain clear at a distance of at least 5km and therefore new legislation is likely to be drawn.