The two busiest airports in the UK are installing systems to disable drones after a drone sighting shut down London’s Gatwick airport for three days during peak holiday travel season last month, according to The Verge. Flights resumed only after the military deployed an anti-drone system that can disrupt a drone’s communications with its operator.
Now, both Gatwick and Heathrow Airport, the second busiest airport in the world, have confirmed that they are investing millions to acquire similar systems of their own. Neither airport has been specific about the technology they plan to use, except to say that it will offer a “similar level of protection” to what was used by the military last month.
That system, reportedly developed by Rafael, an Israeli contractor, is able to jam a drone’s communications and enable a safe landing. The “Drone Dome” system is able to track drones from up to six miles away. Some models, though not the one used at Gatwick, can employ a laser beam to destroy drones.
According to the Times, a spokesperson for Rafael confirmed that authorities from the UK, among other nations, had expressed interest in the system, but did not specifically confirm whether Gatwick or Heathrow were seeking one.
The BBC reported that the military has since removed its equipment. The Ministry of Defense said, however, that the armed forces “stand ever ready to assist should a request for support be received”.
A statement from a Heathrow spokesperson said:
“The safety of our passengers and colleagues remains our top priority. Working closely with relevant authorities including the Met police, we are constantly looking at the best technologies that help remove the threat of drones.”
Over a three-day period starting December 21st, 1,000 Gatwick flights were cancelled or diverted following the sightings. The drones were not photographed, and some authorities have questioned whether a drone was ever actually present. However, the Sussex police cited 115 sightings, including by “credible people” such as a pilot and airport staff.
Two people were arrested following the Gatwick incident in December, but were quickly released.
In any case, the incident has led to new considerations of how drones could potentially interfere with vital infrastructure. In Scotland, officials are setting up patrols and expanded no-fly zones at Edinburgh Airport. Liz Sugg, the parliamentary undersecretary of state for transport, is set to meet with the heads of major airports next week to discuss how to handle the issue in the future.