In December, over 1,000 flights at Gatwick Airport — Britain's second-busiest — were diverted or canceled and flight operations were disrupted for 36 hours due to reports that one or more drones were spotted in the airport's airspace.
No videos or photos have emerged. Police briefly detained two suspects, but released them after determining they weren't involved.
The only evidence: around 100 eyewitness accounts and a damaged drone found near the airport that may or may not have been involved. A reward has been offered for information, but so far little is known. Some people question whether there was ever an unauthorized drone. Police suspect that many of the later sightings were of a drone operated by the Sussex Police.
In January, flights at Heathrow Airport — Britain's busiest — were briefly disrupted after reports of a drone near the airport.
Once again, no videos or photos emerged, and neither the drone nor its operator have been found.
These aren't the first times drones have disrupted airport operations, and they won't be the last. But nobody seems to be quite sure how to solve the problem.
Drones are so small and can fly so close to the ground that it's not really possible to spot them with radar. In the US, the FAA has spent years testing various drone detection techniques, with some success, but has found it extremely challenging. They also recommend against the use of drone countermeasures like jammers because they could interfere with other equipment and could create even greater hazards if drones start falling out of the sky.
Instead, the FAA is working on legislation that would require drone manufacturers to make their drones remotely identifiable and trackable. But this is a complicated regulatory solution that could take years to come to fruition, and even then could potentially be bypassed with some hardware hacking or with entirely homemade drones.
The reality seems to be that nobody quite knows how to prevent drones (or even just reports of drones) from causing massive airport disruptions. We could be looking at a future where this sort of thing becomes commonplace and is just one more inconvenience air travelers will have to plan for.
What do you think? Do you have a clever idea for detecting or intercepting malicious drones? Or are we doomed?