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A Drone at Gatwick Airport

M3 December 21, 2018 0 comments

Open Discussion: How has a single drone completely shut down air traffic at one of the busiest airports in the world for 33 hours?

Fool me once, shame on me…

But this is the second time this exact story has played out at Gatwick Airport since 2017, where significant delays have been attributed to drone activity.

Let us start by saying that we are hoping and praying that the drone and associated pilot that is harassing the airspace around Gatwick Airport is found quickly and that everybody is able to safely continue along to see their families and friends during this busy time of the season!

The first incident, which was very similar to the one that has been ongoing today, occurred back in July of 2017, which you can view on YouTube here (it’s only 2.5 minutes). We usually watch that video clip during our RPAS Ground School courses held across Canada as an example of the effects that drones near airports can have. It details the knock-on effect at the airport (which will be MASSIVE in this case) and how delays now end up wreaking havoc on flights down the road.

The incident developed over for multiple days, and it was reported that the delays ended up costing airlines upwards of $64 million dollars (USD) when it was all said and done.

Why are people flying their drones so close to the airports?

This is clearly a deliberate act to cause disruption, not only to Gatwick, but this will likely affect the global travel for a few days, since it has been going on for several hours.  This act could be perpetrated as a way to mock the aviation industry, and how poorly governments have been able to respond to the very real threats of people using drones for nefarious reasons.  Their response seems to be to clamp down on the commercial side of the industry, versus the criminal side.

How is it even a thing that drones are delivering drugs and other contraband to prisonsstill?!?  I first learned about this happening 4 years ago when I was just entering the industry.  This isn’t a new thing, and the technology exists (and has for a while!).  Prisons and airports specifically should be equipped with appropriate counter-drone measures to safely mitigate the risk that drones present to these airspaces. It is not enough to simply tell the public “please do not fly there… please!”

Rapid growth of the drone industry

It is interesting how the drone industry is developing so rapidly, but due to laws in many major countries, there is almost no way to legally neutralize a drone.  The technology is there!  There are radio jamming guns that can block the frequencies from reaching the drone and in some cases, can actually commandeer control of the aircraft and neutralize it that way.

The counter-drone industry has been quietly preparing for the day that they are called on to stop the “criminal drone” industry. Though it is not just limited to the criminal using drones for bad (#drones4bad), but the careless and clueless!

The industry needed a stimulus (like this? Or perhaps the Mexican airliner that allegedly hit a drone, or on January 9th, 2019 when a similar incident occurred at Heathrow Airport. These sorts of situations often result in a knee-jerk reaction from the government to start the discussion about allowing the use of counter-drone technology.

Drones topping the Christmas list this year!

It is very interesting timing that this happened right before Christmas, where the number of drones that purchased around the world were expected to be in the millions.  It is also interesting that Canada’s new RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft systems) regulations were due to arrive on Boxing Day, though they ended up being delayed until January 9th, 2019 (oddly enough, the same day of the Heathrow Airport drone incident!).

So, you might be asking this about the Gatwick Airport drone incident…

Why couldn’t they find the person controlling the drone?

That is an awfully good question!

This is in LONDON, there are camera’s everywhere!  We also have technology that is capable of tracking radio signals and determining GPS locations…

We can’t speak as to why the technology being used by the police did not allow them to locate the pilot flying the drone, but we can say that some “off-the-shelf” consumer drones have the technical capabilities to easily fly a dozen kilometers, while the pilot uses the first-person-view to navigate the drone.  I could see the source of this airspace incursion coming from a drone being operated well beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) which makes the area search much larger, and the pilot harder to locate…

What options do the authorities have to take down a drone at an airport?

It has been reported that the police have considered using “The Remington Solution” (so it has been called), to shoot down nuisance drones out of the sky, but there is wide concerns of stray bullets – THAT’S FAIR!!

There are several alternative methods though that could be used to detect and mitigate (the two arms of the counter-drone industry) in situations such as this.  

There are several non-lethal methods that have been tested and plastered all over the internet. Netherlands had a program a few years ago (which has since been canceled), where they had birds that were trained to attack drones.  There is a company out of Edmonton that uses a drone that looks like and flies like a peregrine falcon to chase away other birds at airports… birds chasing drones apparently didn’t work as well…

There are guns that shoot nets, drones that carry nets, radio jamming guns, electromagnetic pulse guns, and LASER BEAMS that burn the drone out of the skyLots of options!

But most airports and prisons don’t have these sorts of counter-drone technology, mostly due to regulations in place that prevent non-military, and even some levels of law enforcement, from using this technology.

So it will be interesting to see the fallout from this event on the government stage!

What do you think is going to happen following all of these events?

Will the dust settle? Are we looking at repercussions? Or will nothing happen?