Gatwick drones: Why can't they be shot down, and what can be done to prevent another attack?

Gatwick drones: Why can't they be shot down, and what can be done to prevent another attack?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Gatwick Airport’s runway has reopened after being brought to a standstill by drones on Wednesday night and Thursday, but the perpetrator has not been located.

Airport boss Chris Woodroofe said support from the police and military had made it possible to reopen.

But why did the drones cause such disruption, and why couldn’t they be brought down?

Simon Moores, a pilot who has himself had a near miss with a drone, explained all to talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer.

“The issue at the moment is people are totally absorbed with regulatory issues around drones without actually understanding how the technology has advanced ahead of our ability to regulate the drones themselves,” he said.

“If you are an expert, an enthusiast, you can build something that’s large and powerful and difficult to detect because it’s not actually operating on the same signal as the other drones, and it’s not geofenced.

“Geofencing prevents drones from going near airports, it’s actually built in when you buy them.

“But these ones built off the shelf are not geofenced, so regulations saying we can stop them going near the airport is totally facile.”


Why can’t they be shot down?

Passengers wait at Gatwick after flights were cancelled due to drones. Image: Toby Gilles

“A lot of us laymen are thinking, ‘can’t you just shoot these things?’” said Hartley-Brewer.

“Shooting them really isn’t an option,” replied Mr Moores.

“You’d have to be an extremely good shot, and I wouldn’t recommend it anywhere near airfields or aircraft.

“You could use drone rifles that operate on the frequencies most drones operate on - you’ll see the President of the United States’ secret service team wandering around with these things every time Donald Trump plays golf in case a drone comes over with some sort of payload.

“But it depends on whether the drone is operating on a frequency which is capable of being intercepted. The drone can defeat the counter measures if the drone operator is advanced enough and clever enough.”


Copycat threat

Mr Moores added that he had been warning the aviation industry of the threat from drones since 2015, and warned of the danger of copycat attacks after the Gatwick fiasco.

“I would argue this is the first, we’re going to see copycat threats around the world in the not-too-distant future. This could draw our air transport network to a close. Something that happened in Gatwick is going to happen in Singapore 14 hours later.”

The drones could even be operated remotely, he said.

“You could have the whole thing completely automated, so [the perpetrator] is nowhere near Gatwick.”

The pilot said regulations were not keeping up with how drone technology is evolving.

“Unfortunately the regulators, particularly parliamentarians, are looking backwards in time to drones that existed two or three years ago rather than forward in time to the kind of scenario envisaged in a science fiction novel,” he said.

“What could the government do right now to prevent this?” asked Hartley-Brewer.

“Get together, think intelligently about this, talk to the military because they’re up to speed on this, and have some kind of definitive policy in terms of how they’re going to deal with a growing threat,” replied Mr Moores.