Police given more powers to crack down on drone pilots causing airport closures

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Police are to be given more powers to jump start a crackdown on illegal drone users to avoid a repeat of the chaos that has grounded planes at British airports.

Around 1000 flights at Gatwick Airports were disrupted for three days last December, affecting more than 140,000 passengers in the run-up to Christmas.


And this year flights at Heathrow and Leed Bradford airport have also been cancelled because of the flying tech – with aviation authorities warning of 125 near-misses between drones and aircraft in 2018.

Today  the government will outline plans to stop the disruption to transport as well as catch and punish those who use the remote-controlled flying tech to smuggle drugs, weapons and contraband into prisons.

A mobile “counter-drone” unit equipped with technology to track down and interfere with the devices will be set up to respond to incidents across the UK.

The ideas are part of a Government plan to “deter, detect and disrupt the misuse of drones”, the Home Office said.

The police powers will be set out in the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech and is due to be presented to Parliament, while other pledges have been set out in a counter-drone strategy.

A document setting out the plan said: “Our aim will be to stop malicious and illegal drone use as early as possible, ideally before a drone is used in a crime.

Flights were grounded at Gatwick last year after repeated drone sightings

 

“The Government will consider what further product standards or restrictions within the drone sector could reduce risks associated with the misuse of drones without disproportionately affecting legitimate users, setting new international standards.”

Security minister Brandon Lewis said: “This Government is proud of the UK’s burgeoning drone industry and we will do all that we can to ensure that the UK firmly establishes itself as a world leader in this industry.

“But to ensure the drone industry can thrive in this country we must be able to crack down effectively on those who would use drones to cause harm or disruption.

“There is no silver bullet to help protect our infrastructure and our citizens from malicious or careless drone use.”

The plans also include a public information campaign to ask people to report drone incidents.

“By better-publicising prosecutions for drone offences we will make it harder for people to claim ignorance when prosecuted.”

International design standards for manufacturers to fit drones with safety features will also be set.

The unmanned aircraft industry is expected to contribute an extra £42 billion to the UK economy by 2030, with more than 76,000 drones expected to be in use by this date, according to the Home Office.

But latest figures showed there were 168 police recorded drone incidents in England and Wales in 2018 and 165 drones were found in prisons in 2016 and 2017, according to the department.
No-fly zones around airports were extended from 1km to 5km in March in an effort to prevent disruption.

From the end of November, anyone with a drone weighing more than 250g will need to register it with the Civil Aviation Authority and pass a competency test.

John Lewis has even stopped selling drones amid growing concerns over their misuse and the problems caused at airports.



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