Drones

Gatwick shutdown: How do you stop drones from hovering around airports?

Droneshield makes guns that fire jamming frequencies at drones to bring them to ground
Droneshield makes guns that fire jamming frequencies at drones to bring them to ground
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Droneshield makes guns that fire jamming frequencies at drones to bring them to ground
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Droneshield makes guns that fire jamming frequencies at drones to bring them to ground
Droneshield's DroneGun Tactical
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Droneshield's DroneGun Tactical
Droneshield's DroneGun Tactical fires jamming frequencies at rogue drones to neutralize a threat
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Droneshield's DroneGun Tactical fires jamming frequencies at rogue drones to neutralize a threat
The Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS) has been trialed at some US airports
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The Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS) has been trialed at some US airports
The Dutch Police have trained eagles to take down drones
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The Dutch Police have trained eagles to take down drones

Like many emerging technologies, drones are packed with promise but their capabilities can readily be harnessed by folks with mal-intent. This reality has played out at London's Gatwick airport today where drones have been sighted hovering over the airfield, disrupting hundreds of flights and leaving thousands of travelers stuck in limbo. So what options do the authorities have in trying to neutralize these threats?

There are many places you are allowed to fly drones, but the airport is most certainly not one of them. Collisions with aircraft, where a drone loaded with flammable lithium batteries could enter the engine and potentially take a plane down, would obviously be disastrous. For that reason we are seeing plenty of avenues being explored to prevent these dangerous encounters.

For example, the US government has previously trialed a technology called the Anti-UAV Defense System at some airports, which continuously scans the area for drones with an electronic radar. If a threat is detected, it fires a 4-watt directional beam at it to jam its radio signals and bring it to the ground.

Droneshield's DroneGun Tactical
Droneshield's DroneGun Tactical

This is a similar technology used by startup Droneshield, which now offers a range of handheld "DroneGuns" that fire these disruptive kinds of beams from the shoulder. These tools were actually adopted by the authorities in Australia earlier this year when policing the Commonwealth Games in the northern state of Queensland. There are mixed reports as to whether or not they were of any use.

A couple of years ago, the largest maker of drones in the world, Chinese outfit DJI, actually started building geofencing software into its aircraft that will stop them venturing into restricted airspace. This move followed another firmware update that specifically stopped its drones flying over the White House, after a drone crashed on its lawn. The US Federal Aviation Administration also launched a database requiring hobbyists to register their drones, though this was later abandoned.

Some of the more imaginative solutions to drone safety include nets fired from shoulder-mounted cannons and even from other drones themselves. This solution, which emerged from Michigan Tech, can be flown toward the threat until it is within striking distance, capture the rival drone in the net and then return it safely to ground.

The Dutch Police have trained eagles to take down drones
The Dutch Police have trained eagles to take down drones

And some are even bringing natural flying machines in to tackle the problem. Both the French military and the Dutch National Police have equipped eagles to snatch drones out of mid-air. These skillful birds are trained to see the drones as prey, just as they would in the wild, and carry them to a safe place. These capabilities have even been shown off in some dramatic demonstrations.

Despite the many possibilities, none of these methods have been established as a catch-all solution to trespassing drones, at least not to the point where the incident at Gatwick could be easily prevented. The runways have been closed since Wednesday night local time, with drones repeatedly appearing over the airfield in what authorities are calling a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights.

This has affected tens of thousands of travelers according to The Guardian, with 760 flights carrying 110,000 passengers left grounded on Thursday. A prominent warning remained in place on the airport's website, stating the runway remains unavailable because of the continued drone sightings. Meanwhile, the military has been deployed to try and find a solution.

An incident of this magnitude is likely to spur new conversations around how to deal with prickly issue of unmanned drones and commercial aircraft. At worst, this is a potentially catastrophic situation, and at very best it is a monumental inconvenience. More than three million passengers traveled through Gatwick's gates in November, and one in six of its passengers travel on long-haul flights. The ripple effects of this incident is therefore likely to create huge headaches for airports the world over.

"We hope the authorities find the operators of these drones and the full applicable legal action is taken to deter future incidents of this kind," the International Air Transport Association said in a statement. "Additionally, we look forward to accelerating the cooperation between the industry, drone manufacturers and governments to reduce the risks of rogue drone operations. Such measures could include greater education and awareness for drone operators, a registry of drones above a certain level of capability, enhanced fines and prison sentences for offenders, and technological solutions to prevent drones entering restricted airspace."

Source: IATA, Gatwick Airport

4 comments
Jimmy_Fallin
What the MSM was reporting and what REALLY was flying were two different things. Look on YouTube videos of what some of the passengers posted. If you would have shot that at what was over Gatwick would have probably killed who ever shot at the UFO not DJI drone.
Brian M
Unfortunately the most important information that comes out of this is how incompetent both the UK authorities (police and Airport) and the government are. There is absolutely no excuse for the pathetic response to these drones, its always been a known risk. Suitable technology should have been available to either down the drones or deny them navigation capability via jamming of control signals, GPS denial or Strobing to frustrate feature navigation. Simple tracking techniques to triangulate the source of command controls (or monitor other signals such as mobile phones), even visual tracking to triangulate their 'home bases' as they take off or land. But perhaps the most suspicious thing about all this is the lack of good video and images of these drones, which does make you wonder how many of the sighting are actually real and why they haven't ben caught. It seems these days you can't do anything without being caught on camera or CCTV yet these drones seem to able to do so? Should add not one single tougher law would have prevented this issue. Criminals tend not to obey the law - strange that!
christopher
Planes can safely hit geese - in the almost-never-going-to-happen likelihood of a plan hitting a (much smaller and much lighter) drone, NOTHING WOULD HAPPEN. This is a total overreaction to a nothing problem. They should top looking for drones, then nobody needs to worry about them. Planes are not going to hit any, and even if they did, nothing bad will happen anyhow. Our entire world has turned into a nanny planet of terrified morons...
Robert Schreib
WHERE'S ALL THE SHOTGUNS?!?
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