The UK’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports plan to invest millions of pounds in military grade anti-drone technology following December’s drone incident at Gatwick.
Between 19 and 21 December 2018, around 1,000 flights were disrupted and the military called in over purported drone sightings at the London airport. The lack of anti-drone technology available for deployment at Heathrow and Gatwick by the police and military was widely believed to have elongated the disruption; it was also alleged that later drone sightings were in fact of devices used by the police to hunt the original drone.
The UK government had been warned about the risks posed by drones to international airports as long ago as 2015, but authorities were accused of not taking the issue seriously, rendering the Gatwick incident inevitable. Police attending Gatwick were reluctant to use popular “drone rifles” to shoot down the drone due to the risk of hitting civilians in nearby residential areas, but a range of other anti-drone technology could have been made available in both Heathrow and Gatwick as a preventative measure.
Heathrow and Gatwick have not specified what anti-drone technology they intend to acquire: potential equipment to deter drones includes a device which blocks the signal between a drone and its operator; geo-fencing, which prevents drones from flying in certain locations; anti-drone lasers; weighted nets; and trained birds of prey. Gatwick says it has already spent around £5 million on unspecified drone deterrence solutions, to be deployed in conjunction with the Royal Air Force; while Heathrow has said it intends to purchase similar systems.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence purchased the Drone Dome anti-drone technology system, developed in Israel, in August 2018; but the system has not yet been implemented and alternative measures had to be taken at Gatwick. The Drone Dome comprises drone detection with 360° radar coverage over a range of several kilometres, a laser, a signal jammer and a high-pressure water gun; all aimed at providing effective airspace protection.