January 21, 2019
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British airports boost defenses against drones

 Passengers wait within Gatwick airport in Sussex, southeast, England, 20 December 2018. EPA-EFE FILE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

Passengers wait within Gatwick airport in Sussex, southeast, England, 20 December 2018. EPA-EFE FILE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

London, Jan 5 (efe-epa).- British airports are boosting their counterdrone efforts after severe disruption during the holiday period, marking the first concrete sign that the three days of flight mayhem could be a catalyst for spending on systems to thwart the malicious use of unmanned aircraft, according to a report from Dow Jones Newswires supplied to EFE on Saturday.

London Gatwick, the UK's second largest airport after Heathrow, said it had recently spent several million pounds to buy new equipment to handle disruptive drones.

The system is on par with what the country's military uses, the airport said without identifying the supplier.

Counterdrone tools cover a range of technologies, including acoustic and radar sensors to spot the typically small aircraft.

It can range to sophisticated devices to bring down drones, such as jammers that disrupt the communications link between the aircraft and operator.

Most sales of counterdrone equipment, which can be expensive, have so far been to the military, according to industry officials.

Troops increasingly face the threat of attack from small drones on the battlefield.

Repeated drone sightings forced Gatwick to close its single runway multiple times from late Dec. 19 through Dec. 21, affecting around 140,000 passengers after 1,000 flights were canceled and many more were delayed.

The local police force is still searching for the perpetrators and said it had 93 credible witnesses.

Nobody has been charged for the mayhem and authorities have offered a 50,000 pound ($63,400) reward for information that leads to the arrest and convictions of those operating the drones.

The UK military deployed some of its counterdrone equipment to Gatwick to allow the airport to resume normal operations. Those systems were withdrawn this week.

Gatwick said the equipment it has acquired provides "similar level of reassurance" to that used by the armed forces.

London Heathrow, Europe's busiest hub, stepped up patrols around its facility in December to mitigate the risk of drone disruptions that impacted Gatwick at the time.

The airport Friday said it was working with authorities to address the risk from unmanned aircraft. "We are constantly looking at the best technologies that help remove the threat of drones," a spokeswoman said. She declined to say whether the airport had invested in counter-drone equipment.

Regulators in the US and Europe have struggled to find ways to foster a commercial drone industry that promises to grow into a multibillion-dollar annual business and protecting the public from reckless use of the devices.

A local city council in Britain this week has proposed curbing unregulated drone use.

The US Federal Aviation Administration last month announced plans for industry-government pilot projects to test airborne identification of drones.

The British government, in the wake of the Gatwick events, said it had made counterdrone equipment available to deploy throughout the country.

The government also has said that it may recommend tightening rules on drone use this year and call for enhanced policing powers and guidelines to test and use counterdrone equipment, the Dow Jones report added.

In the UK, it is illegal to fly a drone within 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) of an airport.

Violators could face a fine and up to five years in jail, though prosecutions for drone misuse are rare.

Pilots want that exclusion zone increased to 5 km.

By Robert Wall

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