Evaluating Drones – Did Gatwick Fast Track Path to Regulation?


The buzzing drones are back in the headlines, but this time in a context unrelated to innovation or their presence being a force for good. This time, the people are angry and they’re holding up pitchforks as they contemplate their coexistence with humans. Especially when it ruins Christmas plans and holds up precious, valuable time – 32 hours to be exact. Christmas is a busy time as it is and people are not happy with this new intrusion into their lives. The weekend’s world headlines were, of course, focused on what was happening in Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom as mysterious drones managed to cancel flights leaving over a hundred thousand travelers affected around this busy period. Two have since been arrested but has left more questions open than closed and was not the only news from the weekend. A drone prevented rescue helicopters from taking off from a hospital in Turku, Finland. Anyone can buy a drone. The phenomenon is so new that there have been no rules up until recent years and so sellers have almost had nothing to inform buyers about. While a number of experts predict that our skies will look very different in the future with these drones filling the sky, where do we draw the line when it comes to interfering in the affairs of more important aircraft and our own safety?

Firstly, how can a pair of remote-controlled toy drones cripple a large international airport like Gatwick? Drone consist of mainly two threats to air traffic. Firstly, it is about the risk of collision; if a drone were to enter the engine, it would be completely destroyed. This is best shown through a video that has gone viral in relation to the weekend hiatus. It shows just how damaging this can be and is not a joking matter.

As you can see in the video, the drone managed to pierce a large hole in the plane’s wing, which can be a great danger to the plane as a whole. While drone regulations vary from country to country, let’s take a look at some of the implemented measures that came into action this year. In July 2018, laws came into effect that would restrict all drones from flying above 400 feet or within one kilometre of airport boundaries. The legislation followed a year-on-year increase in the report of drone incidents with aircraft, with 93 reported in 2017 (The Independent). It was precisely on these grounds that this weekend’s notorious Gatwick daredevils were breaching regulations. Who were they and why were they flying drones in the second busiest airport in the United Kingdom and eight busiest in Europe? 

While we await further information about their motives, or in fact whether or not they were behind this drone activity, the 47-year-old man and 54-year-old woman from Crawley that are currently being questioned should have known about the rules as most drone-flyers know that airports are sensitive areas. They would have to be extremely careless to not have known about it at this point, especially considering that the airport was closed down for more than a day. With drones, if you don’t want to get in trouble with the law, it’s safe to follow the following points as taken from the CAA Drone Code Page:

1. Don’t fly near airports or airfields
2. Remember to stay below 400 feet (120 metres)
3. Observe your drone at all times.
4. Never fly near aircraft.
5. Enjoy responsibly.

Obvious? By looking at these points, it would all seem like common sense so this Gatwick event would point to the fact that this was an intentional act, but that leaves the question of why? This can only be known after questioning, but this leaves an even more worrisome picture, especially considering the slow-response from the authorities and how this can all be taken advantage of by rogue groups and terrorists. After all, we’ve seen similar things happening in Syria with, albeit more advanced versions, drone-attacks frequently attacked Russia’s airbase in Hmeimim, Western Syria. This begs the question: will drones be used more frequently in acts of terrorism?

First, risk should be assumed with drones being packaged with explosive charges. Drones vary in size and capabilities, so this could easily be taken advantage of by anyone willing to do so. This could explain why police and military hesitated to try to push down the drones at Gatwick airport. Another factor is that Gatwick is situated in a built-up area among the southern suburbs of the multimillion city. Crashes are particularly large if the drones are larger and heavier. Drones can even be controlled from one kilometer away or even farther and there are no ways to electronically detect from where they are controlled. However, drone experts say you can track drones with special radar supplemented with a thermal camera, and that you usually try to disturb the frequency with which they are controlled and knock out their GPS.

In regard to the incident at Gatwick, it was described as being “sophisticated, not purely technical, but organizational,” by Richard Parker of the air traffic control company Altitude Angel to Reuters. “They had loaded many batteries and avoided being gripped, probably by driving around to different places”.  Transport Minister Chris Grayling says, without going into any details, that one uses military technology against the drones that are not yet commercially available. “I think travelers are safe. The technology is developing rapidly here. There are military systems that can help”, says Grayling, according to Reuters.

The drone has caused canceled or delayed departures for about 120,000 people. The authorities consider the event to be so extraordinary that the airlines cannot be held liable and are forced to pay compensation to travelers. In Finland, air traffic has so far been undisturbed by drones, that is.. until yesterday. Several unmanned drones have flown at Turku University Hospital in recent times, writes Turun Sanomat. While the law in Finland states that it is forbidden to fly drones at and near the hospital area as they compromise patient safety, drone-flyers didn’t care for it yesterday or throughout the past year. Despite this, five drones have been observed at the AUCS over the past six months. Next year, both the armed forces and the police are expected to have greater powers to intervene against drones who create dangerous situations or are used for criminal purposes. This is setting the standard not only in Europe, but the world. Whether we will see even tougher actions against drones in general, we’ll have to wait and see, but many are angry and as such it could fast track the path to further regulation. And you never want to have an angry mob running at you.. with anti-drone pitchforks.

Evolvera – always changing, always evolving

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner