Gatwick drones: airport reopens after chaos

Government may look to expand legislation on drones

Dog Drone
(Image credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Gatwick Airport has reopened almost 36 hours after drone sightings triggered the closure of the runway.

However, Gatwick bosses have warned of ongoing delays and cancellations, with about 150 out of 837 scheduled flights cancelled today. Tens of thousands of passengers have been affected by the shutdown - a standard precaution to avoid a potentially dangerous collision between a drone and a plane.

Sussex Police say they have identified “persons of interest” in the hunt for the drone operator, or operators, but have not found any links to terrorism, The Guardian reports.

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One theory being considered is that an environmental activist may be behind the disruption. Investigators are also considering the possibility that more than one drone was involved, the newspaper adds.

Speaking at a press conference, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said: “In terms of motivation there is a whole spectrum of possibilities, from the really high-end criminal behaviour all the way down to just individuals trying to be malicious.”

There have been no further reported drone sightings since 10pm on Thursday, and airport bosses say that “additional mitigating measures” were organised by the police and military before the runway reopened at 6am today.

Barry said that measures to tackle the threat included “technical, sophisticated options to detect and mitigate drone incursions, all the way down to less sophisticated options - even shotguns would be available to officers should the opportunity present itself”.

The Gatwick disruption is expected to prompt a push for calls for stricter regulation on drone operation. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the Government was now looking to “go further” with drone control, including considering age limits for users.

“Anyone who tries to do the same [as at Gatwick] again should expect to go to jail for a long time,” he added..

Since July, it has been illegal to fly a drone within 1km (0.6 miles) of an airport or airfield boundary in the UK. People caught violating the law may face maximum fines of £2,500, or up to five years in prison.

Ina bid to prevent disruptions, some drones “have been fitted with special software to force the technology into shut-down mode if it is thought to be near an airfield”, a practice known as geofencing, says City A.M.

Last year, the Daily Express reported that the Government was considering making geofencing mandatory to keep drones away from both airports and prisons, where they have been used to supply prisoners with contraband items such as drugs. However, no such law has yet been tabled.

Along with the new laws on drone operation near airports, the Department of Transport has been conducting a consultation as part of a wider programme of new drone legislation.

Proposed measures include:

  • police issuing fixed penalty notices to those disregarding drone rules
  • using new counter-drone technology to protect public events and critical national infrastructure and stop contraband reaching prisons
  • introducing minimum age restrictions for drone owners in addition to the new tests they will need to take
  • proposals for regulating and mandating the use of apps on which pilots would file flight plans ahead of take-off

The Government has used the findings to draw up a Drones Bill, which will have its second reading in the House of Commons in February.

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