Gatwick Airport Drone Attack Will Set Back Regulatory Development Of The UAV Market
The UK’s second busiest airport was closed for 13 hours from 9pm on December 19 by a malicious drone attack. At least one drone, possibly more, were intermittently flown into restricted airspace around the airport which required air traffic control to shut down the runway. This left tens of thousands of passengers either stuck at Gatwick Airport, diverted to other airports or waiting for their flights to depart for Gatwick Airport from dozens of locations around the world.
Despite the UK police deploying 20 units to find the perpetrator(s) of the Gatwick Airport drone attack they were unable to locate them over the course of more than 12 hours of intrusions. The police clearly established that this was a deliberate drone attack on Gatwick Airport as the intrusions into restricted airspace were timed to disrupt airport operations. With approximately 1,000 flight movements disrupted and an average number of passengers per Gatwick flight of 162, the total cost simply for cancelled flights is in excess of £20 million. Extra costs faced by passengers such as booking new flights, taking train journeys and staying in hotels will push the total economics losses of the Gatwick Airport drone attack to £40 million.
Given the inability of the Gatwick airport authorities and police to locate the drone pilot or even to get the drones out of the sky for more than 13 hours, they seemed woefully unprepared. There are ample techniques to take down a drone or to stop it from flying including geo-fencing from anti-drone technology from vendors like Dedrone which offers an anti-drone security platform to detect and mitigate drone threats. Likewise, Drone Defence offers tailor-made solutions to protect prisons, airports and sports stadia from drone attacks or intrusions. UAV solution providers such as Cyberhawk may also have the skill set to disable rogue drone operators.
The Gatwick Airport drone attack is also bad news for the development of regulatory frameworks for drones on issues like flying Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS), autonomous drones and licensing for drone swarms. Verdantix forecasted that the European market for commercial, industrial and civil government drones would be worth €399 million in 2019 representing growth of more than 30%. But this is predicated on a positive regulatory environment. The Gatwick Airport drone attack should be seen as a warning to all airport operators as well as other organizations which need to secure their airspace. Airports and airlines cannot sustain £20 million in losses per day due to malicious drone attacks. They need far more sophisticated approaches to defending their operations and are likely to further lobby governments to crack down on the drone industry.