Drones: The micro menace

Drones have now disrupted flights at both Gatwick and Heathrow airport. At Heathrow the disruption lasted just a few hours; at Gatwick it was far more serious where tens of thousands of passengers saw their flights cancelled or delayed. Drones are the new micro menace.

In both instances the military were deployed and now the government has indicated that all major UK airports will soon have military grade anti-drone equipment.

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The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told the BBC while on a visit to RAF Marham in Norfolk: “I think that everyone would be expecting all airports to be having this detection, and deterrence effect also, at all commercial airports in the future. It is a logical thing for them to be investing [in].”

All of which sounds comforting except that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling recently admitted on Sky News that there is no easy way to scupper the rogue drones. Currently, he said there is no “off the shelf solution” to the problem and that anti-drone technology is in its infancy, in his words the technologies now being developed are “very immature”.

Complicating matters still further he said the problems at Gatwick were solved by “smart and innovative use of new technology”, but declined to reveal what this was for “security reasons”.

NEW LEGISLATION

In the interim, and with the government needing to be seen to be doing something, the police will be given new powers to tackle the illegal use of drones.

It is currently against the law to fly a drone close to an airport, but this exclusion zone will soon be extended and those flying drones that weigh between 20 and 250kg will need to be registered.

The new legislation will mean that police are able to issue on the spot fines of up to £100 to those ‘failing to comply with an officer when instructed to land a drone or not showing the registration required to operate a drone’.

But is a hundred quid fine really going to deter anyone? Indeed, is any of this legislation really going to help down the drones that are plaguing airports or find the culprits who are flying them?

Efforts to overcome the Gatwick drones sometimes seemed to resemble the Keystone Cops with one policeman suggesting there might never have been any drones and if there were, some of the sightings could have been police drones.

More seriously a couple, Elaine Kirk and Paul Gait, were arrested on suspicion of being responsible, had their names dragged through the press only to be released without charge. Belatedly the police issued an apology. No further arrests have been made.

All of which means there is a very high likelihood that in the near future airline passengers will once again have their travel plans disrupted by small flying objects that no one seems to know how to tame whether they are shuttering airports or smuggling drugs into jails.

Jim Preen: Head of Media

Jim Preen