On the evening of Dec. 19, 2018, small radio-controlled drones were spotted flying over London Gatwick, bringing the world’s busiest single-runway airport to a grinding halt during the peak pre-Christmas
period. Over three days an estimated 140,000 passengers had their holiday travel plans disrupted as
flights were canceled or diverted. At least one airline,
easyJet, reported £ 15 million ($19.3 million) in losses.
Te incident highlighted the growing threat to aviation posed by small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs),
which have become increasingly popular with hobbyists
and commercial users. Tere have been numerous near
misses between drones and airliners in recent years, and
eventually, some fear, the results could be catastrophic.
Te Gatwick incident and subsequent drone-related
disruptions at London Heathrow Airport have left gov-
ernments and airports, particularly in Europe, scram-
bling to counter the drone threat through a variety of
regulatory and technological measures.
Governments may be reluctant to impose draconian conditions on drone operations that could derail a
burgeoning industry, but the incidents in the UK have
prompted calls for stricter prohibitions.
Flying a drone within 1 km (0.6 mi.) of an airport or
endangering aircraft was already a criminal ofense in
the UK, with ofenders facing up to fve years in prison.
Immediately following the Gatwick disruptions, the
government announced the exclusion zone would be
expanded to 5 km around airports, with 5 km long by
1 km wide extensions of the zone from the ends of runways to better protect takeof and landing paths.
In addition, as of Nov. 30, 2019, drones must be registered and operators will be required to complete an
online competency test.
Te government acknowledged, however, that no-fy
Governments and industry scramble to combat the
problem of UAVs near airports. BY ALAN DRON