MIL-OSI UK: drones background briefing

Source: United Kingdom – Executive Government & Departments

A drone closed Gatwick airport for several days before Christmas and halted flights for an hour at Heathrow a few weeks later. 

What’s the current situation with drones and airports?  What is the risk from drones, and what solutions can engineering provide?  How can we prevent this from happening again, and how can drones for legitimate scientific and commercial use safely share airspace with passenger jets?  And what roles are drones expected to play in our lives in future?

Experts were invited to the SMC to discuss these questions.


Prof Iain Gray FREng, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, and Chair of the UK Government Drones Industry Action Group.

Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal FREng, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Director of engineering consultancy firm DH Future Systems Ltd.

Dr Rick Thomas, Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham who uses long range, high altitude drones for atmospheric research.


MIL-OSI UK: expert reaction to media reports that departures at Heathrow were temporarily suspended (and have since resumed) as a precaution after a drone was sighted

Source: United Kingdom – Executive Government & Departments

Reactions to news of a drone sighting at Heathrow airport.

Prof Duc Pham OBE FREng, Chance Professor of Engineering, University of Birmingham, said:

“One cannot be too careful with this kind of matter and I support the closure of Heathrow while the drone sighting was investigated.  It seems that the lessons learnt from the Gatwick incident and any detection/protection system introduced since then have been effectively applied in this case, as the duration of the airport closure was much shorter than in the case of Gatwick.”

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

Declared interests

Prof Duc Pham: “I have no interests to declare.”


MIL-OSI UK: expert reaction to gatwick airport drone

Source: United Kingdom – Science Media Centre

Comments on the recent disruption at Gatwick airport caused by a drone.

Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Director at DH Future Systems, said:

“Current UK legislation bans small drone operations within 1 km of an airfield and restricts them to operating less than 400 feet above the ground elsewhere. Most commercially available drones have built-in ‘geo-fencing’ that prevents them from taking off within 1 km of an airfield.  The news reports of the Gatwick incident suggest that this is intentional disruption with the drones operating within the airfield boundary.  The issues here would appear to be how do you detect and disable an intentional breach and how in future you would prevent reoccurrence.  Neither are easy although there are many companies and organisations worldwide addressing these challenges. Preventing people intentionally breaking the law is never easy.  Clearly this incident will accelerate the work into detection and disabling systems but an airfield size of Gatwick is a large area to police as is being demonstrated by the time taken to identify the perpetrators.

“Preventing accidental incursion is a lot easier through operator licensing, education, operating envelope restrictions, etc. As in all such cases, it will be important not to introduce draconian restrictions that prevents the greater societal benefits from the legal use of drones.”

Declared interests

None received.