Drone No-Fly Zone Extended After Gatwick Closure

The government is to dramatically increase the no-fly zone for drones around airports after huge disruption at Gatwick airport was caused by a mysterious drone just before Christmas.

Days before Christmas, Gatwick took the unprecedented decision to close its single runway after drones were spotted. Every time attempts were made to re-open the runaway, the drone appeared once again.

Despite an extensive police search and the use of military systems, as well as £50,000 reward, the unidentified drone operators were not caught. A couple were arrested, but were released without charge.

Drone laws

The complete shutdown of Gatwick airport during the busy Christmas period and widespread disruption had political implications with the Prime Minister Theresa May warning that the activity was illegal and those caught could face five years in prison.

In the UK it used to be illegal to fly a drone in the vicinity (0.6 miles or 1 kilometre) of an airport, as well as fly drones “beyond the direct unaided line of sight”.

Flights near crowds of people and near buildings are also prohibited.

Read More: Can you fly drones in London?

But from 13 March under the Government’s Drones Bill, it will be illegal to fly a drone within three miles of an airport. The government also wants to give police new stop and search powers to clamp down on people misusing drones.

Since the Gatwick airport shutdown, British airports continue to see illegal flights near their perimeters.

Drone do pose a danger to aircraft, especially during takeoff and landings.

In 2016 for example, a ‘drone‘ collided with an BA A320 passenger jet that was on final approach to London’s Heathrow Airport.

And last month Heathrow was closed briefly after a drone was sighted.

Drone defence

For a while now the uptake of drone technology has led to headaches for authorities.

Aerospace manufacturer Airbus for example has partnered with an anti-drone company to design technology that ‘protects’ lower airspaces from small, consumer UAVs.

But others have taken less orthodox approaches.

Dutch police for example have trained eagles to take out airborne vehicles that could pose a threat to public safety.

Meanwhile the Japanese police have created a dedicated drone squad. That drone squad is equipped with a specialised drone that uses a net to disable the target drone.

The US government meanwhile is known to be working on technologies for protecting the public and sensitive areas from rogue drones, although little is known about its takedown methods.

That said, it has been reported recently that the US Secret Service has a rifle that when fired at a drone, forces it to go into automatic landing mode.

Previously, pop star Enrqiue Inglesias suffered injuries to his hand after trying to grab a drone which was being used to capture images of the crowd in order to get a personal view of his fans.

And research by the University of Birmingham has previously highlighted the privacy, safety and indeed security risks of drones over the next 20 years, especially as the unmanned aircraft could be possibly used by terror groups to attack public events.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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