Rise of illegal drone incidents across the UK

Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire/PA Images


According to Freedom of Information requests submitted by Sky News, reported drone incidents in the UK have increased by around 40% over the past two years. In a post-Gatwick and post-Heathrow climate, however, this is not at all surprising. Drones are available cheaply, and they do not need a licence to be flown. Quite naturally, the number of inexperienced users causes a logistical problem for authorities to control.

The severity of incidents varies: from the most serious cases like Gatwick Airport’s 36-hour shutdown – 155 cancelled flights – caused by alerts of multiple drones over the airfield, to alleged reports of a drone filming a cash machine.

Many governments, including The Department for Transport, in the UK, are trying to regulate the market. In doing so, the DFT is enlisting the help of companies like AirMap, to help come up with a regulatory framework.

We spoke to AirMap’s chairman and founder, Ben Marcus. Marcus said: “Much of the reaction to the Gatwick incident has centred on counter-UAS technology as the answer to all illegal drone operations. But basic regulation and technology can be implemented to help reduce the risks of drones in controlled airspace to a manageable level.”

He believes that airspace authorities should set out clear policies to have drone users register themselves and their aircraft. “Used incorrectly”, he said, “[drones] have the capacity to cause significant disruption to airspace safety, airport operations, and the bottom line.”

The UK government released statements last year, restricting the use of drones and bringing forward a new drone-users register. And now, the government has announced ‘new legislation to extend the ‘no-fly’ zone around airports, banning drones from flying within 5km of runways.’

Chris Gayling, transport secretary, said: “We are also working to raise awareness of the rules in place. Anyone flying their drone within the vicinity of an airport should know they are not only acting irresponsibly, but criminally, and could face imprisonment.”

Marcus adds that incidents involving drones will be a “wake-up call for business, regulatory bodies and governments to take responsibility for enabling safe and sustainable drone ecosystems, rather than a deterrent.”

As outlined in a recent PwC report, drone technology has the potential to increase UK GDP by £42 billion by 2030. It also says that there will be 76,000 in use by then, across a variety of sectors including areas such as defence, health and education.

In order to prepare for increasing numbers, the government is working to process a Drones Bill. This will give police officers the power to stop and search people suspected of malicious drone use above 400m, and within 5kms of an airport.

Mike Walker, at Liberty Communications, said: “Police and authorities can also integrate other systems to identify and monitor drones that threat entering restricted airspace. For example, AirMap’s RemoteID feature can identify drones in the sky just by pointing a phone in their direction, essentially like a ‘Shazam for drones’.”

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