Police to get new powers cracking down on illegal drone use near airports

21 October 2019, 10:25

File photo of a drone flying in Hanworth Park in west London
File photo of a drone flying in Hanworth Park in west London. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Police will be handed more powers to crack down on illegal drone use in a bid to stop more chaos being caused at airports.

As part of the plans, a mobile "counter-drone" unit which will track down and interfere with the devices will be set up to respond to incidents across the UK.

Drone sightings at Gatwick in December caused around 1,000 flights to be cancelled or diverted over 36 hours, affecting more than 140,000 passengers in the run-up to Christmas.

A number of other airports have been forced to suspend flights for several hours due to drone activity this year, including Heathrow.

The move could also help tackle the use of drones to bring drugs, weapons, phones and other contraband into jails.

Counter drone equipment deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport
Counter drone equipment deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport. Picture: PA

The ideas are part of a Government plan to "deter, detect and disrupt the misuse of drones", the Home Office said.

The police powers will be set out in the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, which was announced in the Queen's Speech and is due to be presented to Parliament, while other pledges have been set out in a counter-drone strategy.

A document setting out the plan said: "Our aim will be to stop malicious and illegal drone use as early as possible, ideally before a drone is used in a crime.

"The Government will consider what further product standards or restrictions within the drone sector could reduce risks associated with the misuse of drones without disproportionately affecting legitimate users, setting new international standards."

International design standards for manufacturers to fit drones with safety features will also be set.

The unmanned aircraft industry is expected to contribute an extra £42 billion to the UK economy by 2030, with more than 76,000 drones expected to be in use by this date, according to the Home Office.

But latest figures showed there were 168 police recorded drone incidents in England and Wales in 2018 and 165 drones were found in prisons in 2016 and 2017, according to the department.

And the UK Airprox Board said there were 125 near-misses between drones and aircraft reported in 2018, up by more than a third on the total of 93 during the previous year.

No-fly zones around airports were extended from 1km to 5km in March in an effort to prevent disruption.

From the end of November, anyone with a drone weighing more than 250g will need to register it with the Civil Aviation Authority and pass a competency test.

Security minister Brandon Lewis said: "This Government is proud of the UK's burgeoning drone industry and we will do all that we can to ensure that the UK firmly establishes itself as a world leader in this industry.

"But to ensure the drone industry can thrive in this country we must be able to crack down effectively on those who would use drones to cause harm or disruption.

"There is no silver bullet to help protect our infrastructure and our citizens from malicious or careless drone use."