The Gatwick airport shutdown and the future of drone operations

The Gatwick airport shutdown and the future of drone operations

Gatwick, one of the UK’s biggest airports, has finally restarted operations after more than 32 hours of complete shutdown due to repeated drone sightings, affecting 110.000 passengers during the busiest travel period of the year. The drone operator has not been found yet, but the authorities said it was now safe to reopen the airport.

Things, however, might not be this simple. We don’t know what intent the drone operator had, or whether it was an individual or an organization. But certainly it is a dangerous precedent, which could be imitated to create huge economic damage and widespread discomfort. What would happen if, instead of hitting a single airport, attackers hit multiple airports at the same time?

Even the most advanced regulations can not be effective without a proper enforcement. What happened in Gatwick urgently calls for the development of U-Space services, such as geofencing and electronic identification, which should prevent drones to fly in forbidden areas while allowing police to easily track lawbreakers.

This is what the DREAMS European project, in which our sister company EuroUSC is involved, is trying to do. The goal of the DREAMS project is to analyse the present and future needs of aeronautical information to support the development of a new air traffic management system. The UTM system (Unmanned Traffic Management) will monitor the portions of the sky at lower altitude, dedicated to drones, thus integrating the existing ATM system and preventing disruptions, such as the one occurred at Gatwick.

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