Drone diverts planes at Gatwick Airport leading to runway closure

Last night, a spokesman for Gatwick Airport confirmed that a runway had been closed twice for periods of nine and five minutes after a drone was sighted.

Of the five flights diverted, Easyjet had four, while British Airways said one of its aircraft’s flight paths was changed to Bournemouth. Sussex Police is investigating the potential criminal activity.

The airport said: “Runway operations at Gatwick were suspended between 18:10 BST and 18:19, and again from 18:36 to 18:41, resulting in a small number of go-arounds and diverts. Operations have resumed and the police continue to investigate.”

>See also: How to solve the danger of the drone

Under current law, drones should be flown at no higher than 400ft. This revision of unmanned aircraft law, or the UK drone code, came in during November 2016 to help pilots ensure their gadgets are flown safely.

Drone Flying Laws

  • Don’t fly near airports or airfields.
  • Remember to stay below 120m (400ft) and at least 50m (150ft) away from people.
  • Observe your drone at all times.
  • Never fly near aircraft.
  • Enjoy responsibly.

Former senior air traffic controller Doug Maclean told BBC News that aviation authorities had to “act on the safe side” in incidents involving drones.

“Drones are really very small. They are not designed to be spotted on air traffic radar.” However, he added that “Airports like Gatwick and Heathrow are very busy places, so there are lots of people aware of what a drone looks like.”

>See also: Drone complaints increase – according to investigation

“As soon as anyone sees anything like that, I am sure there is going to be a very instant report to air traffic control, who would then have to make a judgement on how dangerous the situation was.”

As drones have risen in popularity, the risk to aircraft has grown proportionally. In April, the UK Airprox Board, which monitors near-miss incidents, said there had been five incidents in one month – bringing the total during the previous year to 62.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association’s flight safety specialist Steve Landells said the increasing threat “must be addressed before we see a disaster”.

“We believe a collision, particularly with a helicopter, has the potential to be catastrophic,” he said.

On top of the revised drone law, the union has demanded compulsory registration of drone users, and asked for new technology that transmits a drone (and its operators) data to police.

>See also: Does the UK need a drone bill? 

The Civil Aviation Authority said that those who broke the rules concerning drone usage would suffer serious consequences: “Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are potentially flying close to one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world.”

“[It is] a complex system that brings together all manner of aircraft including passenger aeroplanes, military jets, helicopters, gliders and light aircraft,” a spokesman said.

“It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment.”


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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