Gatwick Airport is one of the busiest airports in Europe, with only one runway having served 46.5 million passengers in 2019. With millions of flights and passengers booking to fly to or from Gatwick, it is imperative that operations run smoothly, as one small hitch can cause complete mayhem and hundreds of canceled flights. Thankfully, issues do not occur often however, one in particular that took place in 2018, will go down as one of the biggest disruptions at Gatwick in recent history.
Between 19th-21st of December, a paramount time for traveling thanks to its proximity to Christmas, disaster struck when reports of drones being sighted near the airport’s runway came in. Subsequently, 140,000 passengers and 1,000 flights were affected, unable to go ahead due to the safety risk of possibly colliding with said drones. It has been left unsaid whether the incident was intentional, however, evidence indicates that it was indeed done to cause disruptions, as just when the airport was gearing up to reopen, another sighting was reported.
Soon after the incident, a couple living nearby to the airport were arrested and questioned for 36 hours in suspicion of flying the drones, however, they were released after having been found to be completely uninvolved. As of 2020, there have been no arrests regarding the incident, and the perpetrators remain unfound and in early 2019, a new law was brought into effect in the UK to make it illegal to fly drones within 5 kilometers of an airport, in the hopes of stopping this event ever reoccurring.
However, the UK is not the only country whose airports have been brought to a standstill due to camera drones, as three airports in Germany, New Jersey, and Dubai have also been affected in recent years, although at less of a loss as with the Gatwick incident. In January 2019, less than a month following the drones at Gatwick, all flights bound for Newark Liberty International Airport were halted due to a drone spotted flying nearby. The hold up did not last for long; however, it did cause many flights to be delayed and rerouted, with many being forced to circle the area whilst waiting for the all-clear.
As mentioned, similar incidents in Germany and Dubai have also taken place. On March 2nd, 2020, a drone sighting at Frankfurt Airport in Germany caused major disruption as flight operations were halted and supposedly 70 flights were either delayed or diverted to other, nearby airports. Fortunately for the airport staff and passengers, the delay did not last long, and the flights were able to return to the schedule. In contrast to the slightly longer delays caused by these incidents, Dubai International Airport was brought to a standstill in September 2019 for a total of 15 minutes. Although the airport was not closed for long, this and the other three incidents described here are examples of how hundreds of thousands of people can be affected by the misuse of camera drones.
A New Trend?
These incidents have only begun in recent years, due to the rise of camera drones being sold to the public. In 2015 alone, around a million were sold to civilians because, although they occasionally cause hassle for airport staff, when used correctly they are undeniably brilliant. Camera drones are lightweight and small enough to take pictures or videos in hard to get to locations, with the smallest camera drone comfortably fitting into the palm of your hand. With their ability to take such beautiful panoramic shots that are impossible to replicate with a normal camera, it is no wonder that their popularity has shot up.
What once was a military-grade product, used to carry out missions that were too dirty and dangerous for humans, has become a must-have gadget for technology lovers, explorers, and photographers alike. However, it must be reiterated that if you plan on purchasing a camera drone to test just how much you can push the limits of photography and videography, stay away from airports and airspaces. Not only are you saving yourself the jail time or money of a fine if caught, but you could save them time and money of those that have to deal with the repercussions of your actions.