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Drones HOT TOPIC INVADER SPACE


London Gatwick Airport’s pre-Christmas shutdown illustrated just why airports need to urgently tackle the issue of unmanned drones WORDS: ROB GILL


T


he surge in the number of drones in the world’s skies has been an increasing problem for the


aviation industry in the past few years. But it was the massive disruption caused by repeated drone sightings at London Gatwick Airport that may have finally forced airports, regulators and governments to take the issue more seriously. Numerous sightings of drones around Gatwick’s airfield forced flights to be grounded at the UK airport from 9pm on December 19 until 6am on December 21. Even when the runway did finally reopen on December 21, it was closed again for another hour that afternoon after yet another drone sighting.


The incident during one of the aviation


industry’s busiest weeks in the run-up to the Christmas period affected about 1,000 flights from Gatwick, with 140,000 passengers having their travel plans disrupted. One of the most frustrating aspects of the three-day incident was that, just when airport managers thought the skies were clear, a drone would then almost magically reappear and stop the runway reopening. The airport initially brought in the local


police force and then the British Army to try to resolve the situation, although exactly how they did this is still shrouded in mystery, with media suggesting the army used anti-drone technology it had recently purchased to eventually eliminate the drone threat. But attempts by authorities to find those who had been maliciously flying drones near the airfield have so far proved unsuccessful. A local couple who were initially arrested by police were later released without any charges, so the culprits remain at large.


Repeated incidents


To illustrate what a problem illegal drone use can potentially be to aviation, just three weeks later in January 2019, London


routesonline.com ROUTES NEWS 2019 ISSUE 2 87


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