British Police Given Greater Powers to Tackle Drone Misuse
In the aftermath of the recent Gatwick drone incident, the UK government said it would expand technology to detect and repel drones from sites like airports and prisons, to prevent any repeat of events, reports the BBC.
The new legislation will:
- Provide police with additional powers to land drones and require users to produce the appropriate documentation.
- Allow police to search premises and seize drones – including seizing electronic data stored within the device – in case a serious offense has been committed and a warrant is secured.
- For minor drone offences, police will be able to issue fixed-penalty notices, with fines of up to £100 for offenses such as failing to comply with an officer when instructed to land a drone or not showing the registration required to operate a drone.
- Registered drone users will also need to take an online competency test.
- The exclusion zone will now be extended to the current Air Traffic Zone around airports, which is approximately a 5km radius, with additional extensions from runway ends.
- Endangering the safety of an aircraft is a criminal offense which can carry a prison sentence of up to five years.
The government had already made it illegal to fly a drone above 400ft (120m) or within 1km of an airport last year.
On the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 19, Gatwick shut down operations following reports of drones flying over the airfield. The runway briefly reopened at 3 a.m. the next morning, but closed 45 minutes later after another sighting.
Reports continued trickling in through the day on Thursday, forcing Gatwick to remain closed and reroute inbound flights to alternative airports as far away as Amsterdam and Paris.
In the wake of the incident Transport Secretary Chris Grayling speaking in the Commons said that the problems at Gatwick were solved by “smart and innovative use of new technology”, but declined to reveal what this was for “security reasons”. The number of aircraft incidents involving drones has grown dramatically in the past few years. In 2013 there were zero incidents, compared with more than 100 last year.
There has also been an increase in the use of drones to smuggle drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into prisons.
The big winner from the drone chaos that engulfed Gatwick and news headlines over Christmas: manufacturers of anti-drone technology.
Neither Gatwick nor Heathrow has revealed specifics of technology purchased but both have indicated that it’s similar to the tech brought in by the British military at the end of the mini-crisis. It is believed to be from an Israeli company Rafael and called the Drone Dome system, which can track devices from up to six miles away, and sever communications with the operator. Some models, apparently, can also take down drones with a laser beam, but it’s believed the British military opted out of that option.
The Financial Times reports a spokesperson for Rafael saying there had been significant interest from various UK airports in recent weeks. According to The Guardian other UK airports, are expected to announce “significant investment” in anti-drone practices, though not all at the same scale as the London hubs.
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