UK aviation minister Liz Sugg has been pressured by the upper house of parliament over the government’s response to the severe disruption caused by drone activity at London Gatwick.
Sugg could not provide details of the police operation, which was continuing as she spoke on 20 December, but told members of the house that the drones involved were being flown illegally, and reminded them of the recent introduction of laws prohibiting drone use near airports.
She pointed out that, from November next year, drone operators will need to register and take an online safety test. Consultations have also been carried out on extending police powers.
But opposition member Angela Smith expressed dissatisfaction with Sugg’s responses to queries as to the nature of the incident and measures to prevent a similar event at other UK airports.
“Given the length of time that this incident has been going on, and the scale of the disruption, it is clear that it has not been caused by a teenager playing with an early Christmas present,” said Smith.
“It is obviously malicious. The government has to address serious issues.”
Smith asked whether the police had sufficient expertise and equipment, and whether the government had engaged the military in order to use “higher-grade” technology.
Member Timothy Kirkhope expressed concern over the incursion and that “full accountability” for drone operators, and those who sell them to the public, should be implemented.
Opposition member Toby Harris accused the government of having “dragged [its] feet”, given the repeated concerns about drones raised over the last few years.
“Why, at the earliest stage, were technical specifications not introduced and required of all drones brought into this country or built in this country, which would have enabled them to be disabled and brought safely to the ground?
“That technology is available and had it been introduced at the beginning it would have made life a lot easier,” he said.
Harris also described the penalties introduced this year as “quite clearly inadequate”.
Other queries included whether rehearsals had been conducted for such an incident, and whether ministers had fulfilled commitments to discuss issues of signal-jamming equipment, to which Sugg responded that the government was “working closely with manufacturers on counter-drone technology”.
“We will be looking at our response and working with airports to avoid such an incident in the future,” she said, indicating that counter-drone measures would form part of this effort.
“We are working on the new technology that is available to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.”