LEGAL COMMENT: Gatwick drones incident

Lawyers from national law firm Weightmans believe the UK needs more than new regulation to guarantee safety and security following the drone…

Lawyers from national law firm Weightmans have called for more than new regulation to guarantee safety and security following the drone incident at Gatwick airport on 20 December.

Britain's second busiest airport ground to a halt yesterday when drones were repeatedly flown overhead.

Over 120,000 passengers have been affected by delays and cancellations at Gatwick airport, with all flights grounded for 36 hours in an unprecedented event for the UK aviation industry.

Weightmans Partners Andrew Krausz and Peter Forshaw commented:

“The Gatwick incident yet again underlines the safety and security challenges posed by drones and has left thousands of people facing delayed or cancelled flights. The extension of the Air Navigation Order in July 2018 to restrict the operation of even the smallest drones near aerodromes like Gatwick has seemingly had no effect here to prevent the apparent breach of the Regulations.

“Many passengers will be seeking compensation for the disruption to their travel plans. On this occasion, events are likely to have arisen as a result of ‘extraordinary circumstances’, which is a defence for airlines against EC Regulation 261/2004 compensation payments – but as drones become more commonplace, it is imperative that airports look to develop and implement counter-drone technology. While techniques will no doubt differ, the concept is not unlike bird-scarring processes that are well understood and widely deployed at airports.

"It is clear that the current restrictions on drone use are unlikely to stop these incidents, or the consequential disruption and safety concerns, in the future. They will only be effective if combined with improved technological development, which will enable the authorities to quickly track, identify and disable such drones entering restricted airspace.

"Without this investment, perhaps supported by Government, there may come a time when airlines cannot argue ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as a defence to EC Regulation 261 compensation payments and airports could face other potential liabilities. Regulation on its own doesn’t work to guarantee safety and security, or limit related claims.”

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