Following the incident on Sunday at Gatwick Airport where the runway had to be shut down twice due to a drone flying too close, the Solicitor General has called for the law on drones to be reviewed.
Four Easyjet flights and a British Airways services were diverted, with many other aircraft left circling the airport in West Sussex. Pilots are warning of a “disaster” unless the regulation is tightened up.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) is demanding compulsory regulation of drone users, so police will be able to track down irresponsible drone pilots more easily.
Robert Buckland, speaking on BBC Radio 4 said: “The legislation relating to aviation is quite old”.
“There’s a lot of legislation about intentional attacks on aircraft. I’d hesitate to say that there’s a loophole, but certainly, the development of drones is a relatively recent phenomenon.
“It’s causing problems not only at airports but also in our prisons, and it’s clear to me that we need to look very carefully at whether the law is up to spend and at whether we can improve it in order to make sure that where offences occur which cause risk to life and limb, massive disruption and criminal damage, that the law is fit for the purpose of prosecuting the perpetrators of this type of crime.”
Steve Landells, the BALPA union’s flight safety specialist, said: “Yet another incident at Gatwick involving drones shows that the threat of drones being flown near manned-aircraft must be addressed before we see a disaster.
“Drones can be great fun, and have huge commercial potential, but with a significant increase in near-misses in recent years it seems not everyone who is flying them either know or care about the rules that are in place for good reason.
“We believe a collision, particularly with a helicopter, has the potential be catastrophic.”
He also stated that as the number of drones being sold increases, there should be an investigation into new technologies to mitigate the safety concerns.
“These should include, amongst other things, geofencing as standard and a system whereby the drone transmits enough data for the police to locate the operator when it is flown in a dangerous manner,” he said.
A Gatwick Airport spokesman said: “Due to reports of a drone observation in the vicinity of the airfield, runway operations at Gatwick were suspended between 18.10 and 18.19, and again from 18.36 to 18.41, resulting in a small number of go-arounds and diverts.”
This isn’t the first recorded incident of a drone causing disruption at a landing zone. In Edinburgh, a pilot had to take evasive action after a drone came within 20m of his plan last month. Police warned there could have been “far more serious consequences.”