Regional Gateway editor Chloë Greenbank summarises the latest happenings across airports serving business, regional and low-fare routes.

With Heathrow Airport having to suspend flights temporarily earlier this week following drone sightings above the airfield, there was concern that the drone sightings that caused chaos at London’s Gatwick Airport at the end of 2018 might be rearing their antenna again.

The UK’s transport minister, Chris Grayling, described the disruption caused by drones to flights at Gatwick as “deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal.” He also paid tribute to “all at Gatwick and other airports” who worked hard to ensure passengers got away for their Christmas breaks.

But, while regional hubs such as Southampton and Bournemouth stepped in to support passengers during the Gatwick fiasco, the disruption at Heathrow was thankfully kept to a minimum and flights were resumed after the airport’s northern runway was reopened.

However, the two incidents have reinforced the need to revisit drone restriction measures around all UK airports. In July 2018, the government introduced new measures barring drones from flying above 400 feet and within 1 km of protected airport boundaries.

But under a new proposal, the UK will now prohibit drones from flying within 5 km of airport boundaries unless the operator receives permission from air traffic controllers and the Home Office will also be testing and evaluating the use of counter-drone technology at airports.

The government’s proposal will affect airports throughout the UK and was welcomed by the British Airline Pilots’ Association, which has been calling for the 1 km zone to be increased for some time now. The association’s general secretary, Brian Strutton, described the announcement as “a win for flight safety.”

And while the Airport Operators Association’s CEO, Karen Dee, offered her support for the government’s extension of “no-drone zones around airports to approximately 5 km,” she also urged the government to “move quickly” to introduce mandatory geo-fencing technology to safeguard critical airspace around airports from accidental drone incursions and allow airports, police and authorities to focus on “preventing malicious use of drones.”

After all, while no-fly zones will certainly help tackle the problem of drones flying too close to airfields, they won’t resolve the issue completely as the sightings of drones near Gatwick Airport were within the current 1 km no-fly zone.

Nonetheless, here’s to hoping that the new drone restrictions to be put in place in 2019 will help avoid a repeat of the Gatwick fiasco at the end of last year.


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