Drones were a popular gift this past holiday season. Their rapidly growing presence is outpacing the ability of aviation regulators worldwide to keep up. The mayhem that ensued following the December 20, 2018 shutdown of London’s Gatwick Airport during which almost 1,000 flights were canceled stranding 140,000 passengers during the peak Christmas travel period. The Gatwick shutdown’s cause? Wait for it — deliberate drone incursions.
These intentional drone incursions necessitated the deployment of British law enforcement and military specialists to respond and re-open the airport which was shut for a day and a half. However, more than 10 days later, the police have no one in custody and very limited answers as to how the incursion occurred and who might be behind it.
Gatwick was ultimately reopened after British authorities regained control over the airspace employing technology developed by Israeli manufacturer Rafael called Drone Dome. The technology is described as an “end to end system designed to provide effective airspace defense against hostile drones.” The technology uses radar and lasers to detect drones from up to 6 miles away and, once sighted, terminates communication between the drone and its operator, usually allowing for a soft, regulated landing by aviation authorities. Tracking the operator, however is a very different matter and will be the focus of international aviation regulatory attention in 2019.
Less than two weeks prior to the Gatwick drone fiasco, an Aeromexico Boeing 737 plane crashed into a drone on approach to the Rodríguez International Airport in Tijuana causing damage to the plane’s nose though no human injury.
In Illinois, on December 26, 2018, the state department of transportation released a tweet urging those who were recently gifted drones to familiarize themselves with the state guidelines for operation. More state and local municipalities are likely to do the same in 2019.