Near Miss With Drone At Gatwick Airport

The dangers to civilian aircraft posed by the reckless use of drones is once again in the headlines, after a near miss at Gatwick airport.

A rogue drone came within 20m (65ft) of an A320-series airliner as it was one minute away from landing, earning the near collision a category A rating (the highest risk) by the UK Airprox Board (UKAB), a reporting organisation for pilots concerned about near misses with other aeroplanes.

The official report of the rogue drone will raise questions about Gatwick airport’s anti-drone defences.

High risk

“The A320 pilot reports in the late stages of a manual ILS approach into Gatwick,” said the official report. “They had taken on extra fuel due to reports of drone activity in the London TMA and had also been warned on ATIS and by the controller. There had been no reports of sightings recently.”

“Passing about 350ft, slightly right of the centreline, the Captain exclaimed ‘drone’. The F/O (flight officer) looked out and also saw a drone, directly in front of the aircraft, slightly to the left at a range of about 100m,” said the report

“Visual contact was maintained with the drone as it passed down the left side of the aircraft at the same level,” said the report. “The F/O is a drone enthusiast and identified the drone as a DJI Inspire. The crew were unable to perform an evasive manoeuvre due to the speed of the event.”

Upon landing the F/O reported the drone sighting to ATC and the crew made a statement to the police after landing.

“The crew believed that if the autopilot had still been engaged, and they were on the centreline, there was a very high probability that they would have struck the drone,” said the report.

Gatwick shutdown

Last week market leading drone maker DJI announced that it had developed a smartphone app that can help authorities deal with rogue drones and their pilots.

This is because the issue of rogue drones has become an increasingly difficult problem for governments and law enforcement.

Last Christmas rogue drones for example forced the shut down of Gatwick airport’s single runaway over a three day period.

The multiple appearances of a number of mysterious drones at Gatwick airport delayed the Christmas get away of 140,000 passengers and disrupted 1,000 flights.

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. The police also reportedly carried out 1,200 house-to-house inquiries and took 222 witness statements in a police operation costing £790,000.

The police suspect that the criminals who operated the drones may have been an insider at the airport.

Tough laws

In the UK, tough new laws are swinging into place to clamp down on the problems associated with the illegal use of drones.

The scheme, launched by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will create a central register of all drones operated in the UK.

From the end of November, it will be a mandatory requirement for drone pilots (including children) to register any drone or model aircraft weighing between 250g (9oz) and 20kg (44lbs).

Registered drone owners have to be over 18 years old, and rogue drone pilots risk a £1,000 fine and a prison sentence.

In June the European Union announced that drone usage will be governed by a new set of rules that have been “published to ensure drone operations across Europe are safe and secure.”

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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...

View Comments

  • "tough new laws are swinging into place"
    The new laws do nothing to prevent issues like this - The current laws are more than adequate.

    The whole new drone registration scheme and test is an utter joke, have taken it and to call it childish is being generous. It will do nothing to prevent the type of activity described in the article or the alleged attack at Gatwick.

    Criminals are just that, they don't obey the law - so why would they obey the new one?

    To be honest this latest report doesn't really make sense - or someone is lying, to be able to clearly identify the exact make of a drone at 100m in a moving aircraft is hard to believe.

    The actual solution was to simply enforce and prosecute the very sensible laws and restrictions we currently have. With perhaps an initial licence exam - and one of a better quality than the one currently being used online by the CAA which is a joke.

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