Philip Tarry, Director of HALO Drones, offers his expert opinion in an interview with BBC News this morning on the latest situation at Gatwick Airport; where drones flying across the airspace have closed the airport causing flights to be cancelled and those due to land diverted to airports around the UK.

Watch the full interview here or read the transcribed version below:

BBC News: Unfortunately, this really does sound as though it’s been carried out with malicious, sinister intent.

Philip: I wouldn’t like to speculate whether its sinister intent, but it certainly seems intentional. To persistently fly a drone around an airport for what seems to be 12 hours now, can only really mean one thing. And that is not due to any lack of awareness of the regulations because, of course, people have been talking about no-fly zones around airports. Legally they exist, within DJI, the main manufacturer of drones, they have a GPS means of preventing people from taking off within a boundary of the airfield, so we can presume that this is not an ‘off the shelf’ drone. We can assume that this is someone who is willfully ignoring the rules and has a drone that has either been hacked or custom-built in order to be able to fly in this environment.

BBC News: So, it probably is sinister then, or at the very least stupid?

Philip: Absolutely stupid. The shame of it is, is that this is going to have an impact on the public perception of drones, which doesn’t do our industry and our use of drones any good. The regulations have been there now for a long time and are well established and the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) are doing a lot to try and raise awareness about it. I’m trying to use this opportunity to help raise awareness about the regulations, because they do exist, and the safe professional use of drones is something that we should all be aspiring to.

BBC News: Do drones have a unique identification number or serial number, that if they are captured, they can be traced to a certain person?

Philip: Not currently, but there are plans for that to come into place in November 2019. An implementing rule was issued by the CAA in July this year for that to happen as well as a registration scheme. Electronic identification is actually something they are thinking about bringing in, in the future. Registration as of November 2019, we still don’t know exactly what that is going to look like, but it will be some form of registration via an online website. We suspect there will have to be some sort of identification on the drone that’s physical, or that if someone finds the drone, they will be able to identify who is the owner, who is the pilot.

BBC News: Could that minimise the risk of something like this happening again?

Philip: It would struggle because ultimately you have to catch the drone to get that information. DGI have worked on a system where you can sort of point something at a drone and be able to identify who is the owner, who is the operator, but again there are ways around these systems. The regulations are going to do a lot and with regards to registration and competency requirements that come in in November 2019, they will do a lot to help raise awareness of the regulations so that your average user will be aware. It’s, unfortunately, not going to prevent situations like this. I know there are a number of people on social media this morning talking about ‘why is defence of drones around infrastructure like this not being better talked about’.

Actually, a prison in Guernsey has now actually started implementing this electronic drone defence. I’ve actually instructed people who have developed this technology, it does exist, it’s just not being implemented yet. This might be the event that speeds up the implementation of that technology.

BBC News: How can you capture this drone? The police can’t obviously just shoot it out of the sky because of safety considerations, how else could this drone be brought down?

Philip: There’s been a number of manufacturers who have looked at means of recovering drones like this. There are electronic means of doing it, so you can point something at the drone, and it puts a GPS jamming signal, which forces that drone into thinking it needs to return home and land. Not knowing what drone this is, it might not be using GPS for flying, it might be fully manual.

People tend to forget that radio-controlled aircraft have existed for decades, drones are just a modern evolution of that technology and these radio-controlled aircraft might not be susceptible to that kind of electronic defence. There are other means where drones have been proposed to fly over the top of it and drop a net; there are also guns that fire nets into the air which catch round the rotors and bring the drone out of the sky. Again, that will end in a catastrophic event of the drone falling out of the sky, so you could argue that’s not safe. It really does depend on where the drone is and what’s near. It seems in the reports I’ve heard they are struggling to actually track the drone and therefore the ability to capture it is going to be quite difficult.

You can also see Philip discussing this situation further at 16.45pm on Channel 5 today (20th December 2018).

Posted on: December 20, 2018