The question that is being asked of the Government and major airports across the UK is, 'Why aren’t airports equipped to detect rogue drones or drone users?'.
People intent on engaging in deliberate criminal acts do not follow the law. After the disruption at Gatwick just before Christmas and now the reports of Heathrow having sightings near its northern runway, it is clear evidence that introducing additional laws or restrictions will not have the desired effects that key Airport Stakeholders and Government want.
Won’t more laws or restrictions help?
No. As mentioned above, people intent on engaging in deliberate criminal acts do not follow the law. The perpetrators of these incidents are already breaking multiple laws and are therefore unlikely to be deterred by additional laws or regulations.
More restrictions will also alienate the 4,500+ legitimate drone users who use their devices safely and legally for commercial purposes.
Can’t they just shoot the drone down?
No. Whilst Article 240 of the Air Navigation Order, which makes it an offence for anyone to endanger an aircraft or anyone on board, doesn’t apply to drones, using any ballistic weaponry against a small drone would most likely be dangerous and impractical. This could potentially cause a secondary hazard of foreign object debris (FOD) which is also a major concern of all Airports.
So, what, then, can be done?
Airports and UK Plc need a concerted & co-ordinated plan to invest in drone detection systems around national infrastructure sites and areas of key importance. This combined with the rollout of an Unmanned Traffic Management system that ties into UK airspace will enable airports and other sites to utilise drones for their business benefits (of which there are many) whilst still being able to detect and respond to any potential threats. These technologies are currently available and mature enough to be deployed now.
We have experience with consulting with airports and we have conducted feasibility studies which looked at the costs associated to implementing such systems.
Consortiq were also part of a well demonstrated concept (Operation Zenith) on 21st November 2018 at Manchester Airport. Operation Zenith provided an insight into how drones and airports can be utilised together - it was a live demonstration of Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) integration in controlled airspace.
Operation Zenith presented a safeguarding solution for any airport and gave a strategic separation of “plan to avoid” activity along with drone detection which notified other airspace users, improving situational awareness.