Ministers urge airports to ‘step up’ in face of drone threat

Defence select committee considers launching inquiry into military response

Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Archive/PA Images

Two cabinet ministers have suggested that airports should be expected to invest in technology to detect and deter drones, rather than relying on government or military intervention.

On Tuesday evening, Heathrow Airport grounded all departures for an hour following a drone sighting that is still being investigated. The incident – the second time in the space of a month that drones have disrupted flights from UK airports – came just a day after the government revealed a range of measures designed to prevent or mitigate disruption caused by the devices. 

Speaking to ITV on Wednesday, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington urged airports to do their bit by splashing out on new kit to combat drones.

“What I think the airports themselves have to… step up and do more of is investment in technology to both detect and then stop drones from flying,” he said.

Lidington’s comments were followed on Thursday by similar remarks from defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who said that “it wouldn’t be right to expect the RAF to be the people that are constantly stepping in” to deal with drone incidents.

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“I think that everyone would be expecting all airports to be having this detection, and deterrence effect also, at all commercial airports in the future,” he said, according to reports from the Press Association. “It is a logical thing for them to be investing [in].” 

Williamson yesterday also received a letter from the Commons Defence Committee chair Julian Lewis, who told the defence secretary that the committee shared “the widespread public concern at the official response to the Gatwick drone crisis” and is considering whether to launch a formal inquiry.

“This concern has of course been exacerbated by the incident at Heathrow,” Lewis added. 

The committee wishes Williamson to “clarify whether your department had an adequate contingency plan for unauthorised, and potentially threatening, drone activity” at both commercial and airports and military facilities.  The defence secretary was asked to “explain the breakdowns in implementation at Gatwick and set out what lessons have been learned, including about coordination between government departments”. 

The committee also requested details of discussions the UK has had with other NATO member states about drone issues.

Sam Trendall

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