It has been reported that a drone being flown dangerously close to Gatwick airport was the reason why four Easyjet and one British Airways flights had to be diverted.
Runway Operations Suspended
Reports indicate that runway operations at Gatwick for two periods (one nine, and one five minute period) between 6pm and 7pm on Sunday 2nd July were suspended.
The resulting flight diversions during that period meant that many passengers ended up far from their intended destination (West Sussex), in places such as Stansted, Southend (Essex), and Bournemouth (Dorset).
Reports about the exact nature of the drone itself are limited, other than to say that it was observed in the vicinity of Gatwick. Sussex Police are reported to be investigating the matter, but as yet the drone pilot has not been identified, and police were not able to recover the drone from the scene.
Certainly Not The First Time
The UK’s safety body jointly funded by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Defence known as Airprox has recorded 70 such incidents last year, and 33 so far in this year. In fact, there has been a total of 142 Airprox incidents involving drones since 2010, with 40 of them being recorded near Heathrow, and 6 (7 including the latest) being recorded near Gatwick.
Could Have Been Worse – Has Been Worse
Although this latest incident caused a good deal of disruption, previous encounters with drones have posed more immediate and apparent danger.
In June, for example, a Loganair pilot attempting to land Edinburgh airport had to take evasive action after a drone came within only 20 metres of his plane.
A code (recently revised) exists in the UK to help ensure that drone pilots operate their crafts safely. The code specifically states that drones shouldn’t be flown near airfields or near aircraft, and that they should be flown below 120m (400ft) and at least 50m (150ft) away from people. This latest incident, and the fact that drones have been sighted by aircraft 12,500ft from the ground, show that not all drone pilots have read / abide by the code.
The Civil Aviation Authority has warned that flying drones near airfields carries serious punishments under law, including possible imprisonment.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Drones have found a use in many current business applications e.g. monitoring construction projects, film and TV, and the aerial photography market. They have also been tested and tipped for use in the future by e.g. Amazon for parcel deliveries. A move towards autonomous vehicles and new transport technologies means that drones currently have a bright future when used responsibly and professionally in the commercial world. Incidents such as the one at Gatwick give unwanted bad publicity to technology that has a lot of safe, cost saving, and productive uses in the right hands. It also points to the need for regulations and guidelines to be developed and revised as such new industries grow.