All UK airports must buy anti-drone technology, says British defence secretary

A British Airways plane lands on the Northern runway at Heathrow Airport, west London after departures were temporarily suspended last night following reports of a drone at the airport. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday January 9, 2019. See PA story AIR Drone. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Neil Lancefield

ALL UK airports must buy anti-drone equipment because the Royal Air Force should not have to step in every time the devices are flown near runways, according to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Technology which can detect and deter the gadgets is a "logical thing" for airports to invest in, Mr Williamson said.

The military has been called in to the UK's two busiest airports in recent weeks after drone sightings caused flights to be grounded.

Departures at Heathrow were suspended for an hour on Tuesday night, while the travel plans of 140,000 Gatwick passengers were affected over three days shortly before Christmas.

Both airports have said they will invest millions of pounds to tackle the threat from drones.

A system which can detect, track and ground the devices has been installed on the roof of Gatwick's South Terminal following last month's chaos.

Civil Aviation Authority figures show 120 near misses between drones and aircraft were reported in the year to December 4 2018, up 29% on the total of 93 in the whole of 2017.

There were just six incidents recorded in 2014.

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg and security minister Ben Wallace held a meeting with airport bosses on Thursday to discuss plans to crack down on the problem.

Around 10 of Britain's busiest airports, such as the main London airports, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, all told the ministers that they have drone detection equipment in place or are planning to install it, the Press Association understands.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is setting up a cross-Government drone security action group to ensure close cooperation between officials from the DfT, Home Office, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Justice.

Speaking on a visit to RAF Marham, Norfolk, Mr Williamson said: "I think that everyone would be expecting all airports to be having this detection, and deterrence effect also, at all commercial airports in the future.

"It is a logical thing for them to be investing (in)."

He added: "It wouldn't be right to expect the RAF to be the people that are constantly stepping in on this."

On Tuesday, the Government announced a package of measures designed to give police extra powers to combat drones.

The exclusion zone around airports will be extended to approximately a 5km-radius (3.1 miles). This is expected to come into force by the start of April.

From November 30, operators of drones weighing between 250g and 20kg will be required to register and take an online drone pilot competency test.

Police will also be able to issue fixed-penalty notices for minor drone offences to ensure immediate and effective enforcement of the new rules.

Fines of up to £100 could be given for offences such as failing to comply with a police officer when instructed to land a drone, or not showing their registration to operate a drone.

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