A drone expert believes the Gatwick chaos may have been caused by someone deliberately targeting the airfield to cause as much disruption as possible.
More than 2,000 flights have been grounded and all incoming flights diverted since 9pm last night after two drones were spotted flying inside the airfield boundary. The airport was closed all night and disruption is likely to last all day causing misery for thousands of passengers.
Former RAF fighter pilot and instructor Jon Parker is an airline pilot who regularly flies into Gatwick and runs drone training company Flyby Technology based in York and wrote papers on unmanned aircraft while in the RAF.
He said: “It sounds like more than one drone has been used which seems to me like it could be a concerted effort to disrupt operations.
“We’ve seen nothing on this scale before although Manchester Airport did suspend all flights for a short time back in 2017 after a drone was seen. The usual practice is to suspend flights for half-an-hour which is the usual battery lifespan for drones but it may be in the Gatwick case whoever is responsible for this have had several batteries and have brought their drones back to the ground to put new batteries on them.
Jon added: “Once drones are sighted over an airfield the authorities have no option but to suspend all flights. If they didn’t and it led to a disaster then they would be slated. Unfortunately, with all the disruption that it’s caused, it’s a case of they are damned if they do or damned if they don’t.”
Jon said drones are not allowed within 1km of an airfield.
He added that drones up to 7 kilos are allowed to fly in airspace controlled by air traffic controllers but they must never be flown at more than 400ft high, drones must not be flown further than 500 metres from their operators and the person operating a drone must ensure it is not a danger to people, property, vehicles or vessels.
Jon said: “If a drone was being flown near or over an airfield the chances of it hitting an aircraft do remain remote but all that could change if they are deliberately flying it on or near the runway.”
But Jon stressed that drones are a power for good.
“There are so many positive uses for them,” he said. “They are used in everything from search and rescue through to being used to inspect critical infrastructure which would otherwise take months to do. They have already saved many lives.”