The UK’s largest airports are set to spend millions of pounds on anti-drone equipment, the Guardian understands, as they seek to protect themselves from future attacks like that which grounded about 1,000 flights into and out of Gatwick airport during the Christmas period. The country’s two busiest hubs – London’s Heathrow and Gatwick – have…
The UK’s largest airports are set to spend millions of pounds on anti-drone equipment, the Guardian understands, as they seek to protect themselves from future attacks like that which grounded about 1,000 flights into and out of Gatwick airport during the Christmas period.
The country’s two busiest hubs – London’s Heathrow and Gatwick – have brought in their own military-grade anti-drone apparatus. The owners of both airports invested millions of pounds in the equipment after about 140,000 passengers were affected by the unprecedented disruption to Gatwick.
The military had to be called amid a series of reported drone sightings over the course of three days, and it is believed that the Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, which can detect and jam communications between a drone and its operator, was deployed.
While it would not say exactly what equipment had been installed since then, a spokeswoman for Gatwick said the airport’s owners had bought a system that provided a similar level of protection and had installed it about a week ago. Heathrow’s spokeswoman also confirmed that the reports of investment in military-grade anti-drone equipment at that airport, which first appeared in the Times on Thursday, were accurate.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that it had withdrawn its resources from Gatwick, though a spokesman said the armed forces “stand ever ready to assist should a request for support be received”.
It is understood that the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, chaired a meeting on Thursday morning at which defence chiefs, the police and Home Office officials discussed future plans for dealing with the threat of drones to vital infrastructure.
The parliamentary undersecretary of state for transport, Liz Sugg, is also due to meet the heads of the UK’s major airports next week to discuss the states of their own defences, as well as what they plan to put in place in future, the Guardian understands.
The airports are expected to announce significant investment in further anti-drone systems, though not all will necessarily be in the form or on the scale of those deployed at the two London airports.
The Drone Dome system is capable of tracking the devices from as far as six miles away. As well as being able to sever communications with the operator, some models can also destroy the drones using a laser beam. The model reportedly procured by the UK military does not have such a capability.
According to the Times, a spokesman for the system’s manufacturer, Rafael, confirmed that there had been significant interest in the product from various authorities in the UK and in other nations, but declined to confirm whether Gatwick had bought one.
A spokeswoman for Heathrow airport 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.”
Referring to the disruption at Gatwick, the chief constable of Sussex police, Giles York, said last week that officers had received 115 reports of sightings in the area, including 93 that had been confirmed as coming from “credible people” including a pilot and airport staff.
Some reports of drones in the area may have involved the police’s own craft, he said, but he added that he was “absolutely certain” that a drone was flying near the airport’s runways during the three-day disruption. Police are still searching for those responsible.