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Rogue Drone Pilots Force Shutdown at Gatwick Airport, Stranding 100,000+ Airline Passengers

BY Alan Perlman
20 December 2018

[UPDATE] Friday, December 21st 5:46 pm GMT — The last drone sighting at Gatwick Airport was on Thursday evening, local time. Flights have since resumed, but neither the drones nor their pilot(s) has been found. Sussex Police arrested two drone pilots, but they were released without charge on 23 December, having been cleared of any involvement. 


On Wednesday evening at 9:00 pm, all flights were suspended at Gatwick Airport—the UK’s second largest and Europe’s eighth-busiest—after authorities spotted two small drones flying nearby.

At the time this post is being published, the airport confirmed that the runways will be closed (at least) through 4:00 pm local time. Over 100,000 passengers on 760 flights were scheduled to take off or land from Gatwick on Thursday, just a few days before Christmas.

And the drones weren’t just spotted Wednesday night.

They were seen again at 3:45 am Thursday morning, just thirty minutes after Gatwick momentarily resumed flights following the first incident.

gatwick airport drone counter UAS

Some authorities believe this to be a deliberate act of disruption — the typical LiPo battery lifespan on the most popular camera drones is about 30 minutes. For there to have been multiple sightings hours apart, the pilots likely had extra batteries with them.

According to Sussex Police, the drones are believed to be of an “industrial specification,” meaning that based on their assessment so far, the pilots weren’t flying off-the-shelf drone models but perhaps something larger and custom-built.

The pilots are still at large, and an investigation is underway.

We’re hoping for swift (and strict) repercussions.

Drone Laws in the UK

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates drone laws in the UK, responded to the incident by reminding us that “it is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports, and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment.”

If caught, the drone pilot(s) could face up to five years in prison.

Drone Detection and Counter UAS

A number of companies offer anti-drone technology solutions using a combination of radar, camera detection, radio frequency detection, and jamming technologies.

Airports, sports stadiums, penitentiary systems, and public safety organizations face challenges when it comes to risk mitigation and building the right protocols and responses around sUAS technology.

Companies like Dedrone, DroneShield, Sensofusion, and Liteye offer Counter UAS systems and are helping to push drone detection and avoidance forward. And drone hardware companies like DJI equip their drones with geofencing software that prevents them from operating in restricted airspace.

And here’s more info about Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) and where we stand from a technological and regulatory perspective when it comes to tracking sUAS.

Head over to our community forum to share your thoughts on the increasing number of reports of rogue drones being flown in restricted airspace.

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drone enthusiasts.