UK police to get greater powers to combat drones

Authorities to gain right to land, seize and search devices following Gatwick disruption

Gatwick Airport was repeatedly forced to close between December 19th and 21st due to reported drone sightings, affecting about 1,000 flights. File photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Police are to be handed extra powers to combat drones after the mass disruption at Gatwick Airport in the run up to Christmas.

Gatwick was repeatedly forced to close between December 19th and 21st due to reported drone sightings, affecting about 1,000 flights.

In response the British government has announced a package of measures which include plans to give police the power to land, seize and search drones.

The Home Office will also begin to test and evaluate the use of counter-drone technology at airports and prisons.


The exclusion zone around airports will be extended to a 5km-radius (3.1-miles), with additional extensions from runway ends.

Ministers also announced that from November 30th operators of drones, weighing between 250g and 20kg, would be required to register and take an online drone pilot competency test.

Police will also be able to issue fixed-penalty notices for minor drone offences to ensure immediate and effective enforcement of the new rules.

Fines of up to £100 (€111) could be given for offences such as failing to comply with a police officer when instructed to land a drone, or not showing their registration to operate a drone.

No arrests have been made in connection with the Gatwick incident since a couple were released without charge on December 23rd.

Sussex Police has said it is continuing to investigate “relevant sightings” from 115 witnesses – 93 of whom it described as “credible” – including airport staff, police officers and a pilot.

Speaking in the House of Commons, transport secretary Chris Grayling said the disruption caused to flights at Gatwick was "deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal".

He said: “I’m very clear that when caught those responsible should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for this hugely irresponsible criminal act.”

Mr Grayling said the ministry of defence remained “on standby” to deal with any further problems at Gatwick or elsewhere as he sought to reassure MPs that national airports were prepared to deal with a repeat.

As he outlined the proposals to deal with drones, Mr Grayling said: “I am clear the government is taking action to ensure that passengers have confidence their journeys will not be disrupted in future, aircraft can safely use our key transport hubs and criminals misusing drones can be brought to justice.”

Mr Grayling said the issue at Gatwick was solved by “some smart and innovative use of new technology”, but declined to reveal what this was for “security reasons”.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald began his response by asking Mr Grayling: “Is that it?

“Announcing the end of a consultation exercise doesn’t constitute action – nor does it go any way to restoring confidence in his capabilities.”

He criticised Mr Grayling’s “dithering and delay” and said it is “stark-staringly obvious that this secretary of state is not up to the job”. – PA