Military can't keep 'bailing out' drone-hit airports

14 January 2019 08:18

Drones have caused disruption at two London airports

Drones have caused disruption at two London airports

All UK airports should buy anti-drone technology and not rely on the Royal Air Force to help out, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said.

Mr Williamson says it is the "logical thing" for airports to invest in technology that detects and deters the devices, so the armed forces don't have to step in.

The military has been called in to help the UK's two busiest airports in recent weeks after sightings of drones caused flights to be suspended.

Departures from Heathrow were suspended for an hour earlier this week, while drones caused thousands of flights to be disrupted at Gatwick in the week before Christmas last year.

Tackle the threat

Both airports have said they will invest millions of pounds to tackle the threat from drones.

A system which can detect, track and ground the devices has been installed on the roof of Gatwick's South Terminal following last month's chaos.

Civil Aviation Authority figures show 120 near misses between drones and aircraft were reported in the year to 4 December 2018, up from 93 incidents in 2017, and just six recorded in 2014.

Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg and security minister Ben Wallace held a meeting with airport bosses on Thursday to discuss plans to crack down on the problem.

Some of Britain's busiest airports, including Manchester and Edinburgh, have told ministers they have detection equipment in place or are planning to install it, the Press Association understands.

Package of measures

The Department for Transport (DfT) is setting up a cross-Government drone security action group to ensure close cooperation between officials from the DfT, Home Office, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Justice.

Speaking on a visit to RAF Marham, Norfolk, Mr Williamson said: "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). It wouldn't be right to expect the RAF to be the people that are constantly stepping in on this."

On Tuesday, the Government announced a package of measures designed to give police extra powers to combat drones.

The exclusion zone around airports will be extended to approximately a 5km-radius (3.1 miles). This is expected to come into force by the start of April.

From November 30, operators of drones weighing between 250g and 20kg will be required to register and take an online drone pilot competency test.

Police will also be able to issue fixed-penalty notices for minor drone offences to ensure immediate and effective enforcement of the new rules.

Fines of up to £100 could be given for offences such as failing to comply with a police officer when instructed to land a drone, or not showing their registration to operate a drone.

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