UK air traffic controller and pilot organisations have criticised the lack of action by aviation regulators over the control of drones around airports following the ‘irresponsible and criminal’ actions of a rogue drone pilot which brought Gatwick Airport to a standstill this week.
Both GATCO – which represents civil and military controllers – and pilots union BALPA said they supported the decision to suspend aircraft operations in order to preserve the safety of aircraft, their crews and the public.
“The level of disruption experienced is unprecedented and such an event will continue to be a threat until appropriate measures are taken,” GATCO said.
GATCO added that its calls for stricter regulations and enforcement have been ‘repeatedly dismissed’ by regulatory bodies. “In addition, GATCO has been advocating for geofencing and other counterdrone measures to be implemented to combat the threat posed by unlawful drone users. Unfortunately, business interests have had a higher priority than regulations and enforcement supported by appropriate technology. While GATCO recognises the many benefits drone technology can bring to our society, safety must remain the top priority.”
GATCO said it would continue to work closely with regulators, industry, standardisation organisations and other stakeholders to ensure drones are integrated safely in UK airspace and appropriate measures are implemented to protect the industry and the public from unlawful drone use.
BALPA said it had been informed that Gatwick had been reopened despite the rogue drone or drones remaining undiscovered. “We understand that detection and tracking equipment has now been installed around the perimeter of Gatwick and the expectation is that if and when the drones reappear, they will be detected and the airport will close again,” it said.
Brian Strutton, BALPA general secretary, said: “BALPA is not aware that any special advice has been given to pilots operating into or out of Gatwick and so we have this morning ensured that all our UK pilots have BALPA’s advice on what to do if they see a drone while flying. BALPA remains extremely concerned at the risk of a drone collision. It is possible that the rogue drones may go undetected around the perimeter or could obstruct the flight paths outside the immediate detection zone. Given this continuing threat we have this morning issued our advice to pilots about steps to be taken if a drone is sighted.”
In an update released on Friday 21 December at 9.30am, Gatwick Airport said its runway is now available and aircraft are arriving and departing. “We are, however, expecting knock-on delays and cancellations to flights.”
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