Airport drone chaos should be a wake up call for the UK

14 Jan 2019

 

Even before the recent interruption to service at Gatwick Airport, I had felt that allowing just any Tom, Dick or Harriet to fly drones without instruction, registration or license, was not a good idea. Since said interruption, I have come to think that it is absolute lunacy. Britain is far too loose with its policy on Unidentifiable Flying Objects.

 

The ramifications of the 'Gatwick Drone Debacle', (for want of a better name), will become clear in time. The farce that it became, (which saw the authorities failing to locate the offending drone, lunging at two wrong arrests, and then declaring that there might not have been a drone in the first place), is just beggars belief. I doubt that even the Marx Brothers would have failed so abysmally at running this piss up in a brewery. In my opinion, an inquiry is the least that the public should expect.

 

I remember when the matter began, and it was very quickly declared, "...not thought to be terror-related". At the time, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. However with what we know now, there are serious concerns with regards to that assurance. The first is how on Earth it could be made, considering the authorities seemingly had nothing to go on. The second is even more serious: what if it had been terror-related? To be quite honest, that does not bear thinking about.

 

We were extremely lucky, that this incident (and the one that shut down Heathrow just days ago — when, apparently a drone was indeed seen) was nothing to do with terrorism. It goes without saying, however, that we cannot expect our luck to run indefinitely. This is especially true, when we consider that terrorists are extremely sharp, and ruthless in their lust for blood.

 

Without wishing to alarm or panic anyone, we can (and should) expect, that they are now fully aware of the United Kingdom’s vulnerability when it comes to drones and would look for ways to exploit it. In addition to this, because it appears that counter-measures are lacking, the vulnerability does not stop at airports.

 

Perhaps it is the creative writer in me, but a whole list of other potential opportunities spring to mind. There are enough public events taking place in a year, that the daring extremist is spoilt for choice as to which to have a crack at. And when one combines this, with the fact that modern-day threats are not very heavy, the incident at Gatwick becomes much more serious than ‘Christmas travel chaos’.

 

Therefore, this fiasco cannot be tolerated or ignored. The government should open a public inquiry as soon as possible. This inquiry, should not only be tasked with discovering what went wrong and why all concerned seemed to be chasing their tails, but also with reducing the possibility of similar situations in the future. Recommendations should cover both credible options of prevention (regulations), as well as effective methods of cure (counter-measures).

 

Obviously, the current stipulations that are in place, (which forbid drones to fly within one kilometre (0.6 miles) of an airport and no higher than 400 feet), are inadequate. As reported by Joe Watts in The Independent, close shaves between drones and aircraft have steadily risen. Mr. Watts gives 93 in 2017, but according to the UK Airprox Board, there were 120 in 2018. Logic alone says, that if this matter is not dealt with, it is not a question of ‘if’ there will be a catastrophe, but ‘when’ and ‘how bad?’ In other words: just how many lives will be lost?

 

While it is true, that a Drones Bill is being drafted by the government, as Mr. Watts observes, “this all could be months, or arguably even years away. And by the time it does come in, technology could have developed to find ways round the government’s restrictions and regulations.” The fact that an online test for drone pilots is set to be introduced, is no real comfort either. That is apparently scheduled to arrive in November this year — almost a year on from Gatwick.

 

It seems, then, that whether one is on an airplane, at a concert, or attending a parade, luck had better stay around. For now at least.

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