UK airports cannot rely on RAF to deal with drones, says Minister

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson says UK airports must act. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson says UK airports must act. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
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All UK airports must buy anti-drone equipment because the Royal Air Force should not have to step in every time the devices are flown near runways, according to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Technology which can detect and deter the gadgets is a “logical thing” for airports to invest in, Mr Williamson said.

The military has been called in to the UK’s two busiest airports in recent weeks after drone sightings caused flights to be grounded.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Airport to strengthen security after Gatwick drone chaos

Departures at Heathrow were suspended for an hour on Tuesday night, while the travel plans of 140,000 Gatwick passengers were affected over three days shortly before Christmas.

Both airports have said they will invest millions of pounds to tackle the threat from drones.

A system which can detect, track and ground the devices has been installed on the roof of Gatwick’s South Terminal following last month’s chaos.

Civil Aviation Authority figures show 120 near misses between drones and aircraft were reported in the year to December 4 2018, up 29% on the total of 93 in the whole of 2017.

There were just six incidents recorded in 2014.

READ MORE: Gatwick chaos shows how vulnerable we are to drones - leader comment

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg and security minister Ben Wallace were holding a meeting with airport bosses on Thursday to discuss plans to crack down on the problem.

Speaking on a visit to RAF Marham, Norfolk, Mr Williamson said: “I think that everyone would be expecting all airports to be having this detection, and deterrence effect also, at all commercial airports in the future.

“It is a logical thing for them to be investing (in).”

He added: “It wouldn’t be right to expect the RAF to be the people that are constantly stepping in on this.”

The Airport Operators Association, a trade association representing UK airports, said on Wednesday its members are working with the authorities to “see what lessons can be learnt” from the recent drone disruption, including “looking at what technology is available”.