An expert in drone law from Swindon- and Marlborough-based solicitors Royds Withy King is calling for changes to be made to current legislation following the drone attack at Gatwick airport yesterday (Thursday).
Philip Banks-Welsh, a partner in the firm and a former Fighter Controller in the RAF, says more needs to be done to manage the risks to obvious targets such as airports, sports stadiums and other public venues.
Philip said: “At the present time it is far from clear whether the incident at Gatwick was a malicious act intended to cause physical damage or loss of life, but it was almost certainly intended to cause disruption and commercial harm.
“This further highlights the fact that current regulation, which looks to punish offenders after the event, is wholly unsuitable to control such actions, and we need to act far more quickly to develop technologies that will counter malicious drone use, particularly near such vulnerable and sensitive locations.
"With such a fast moving technology this will not be an easy task, but the cat is out of the bag now in terms of the availability of airborne drones, and the technology that surrounds their further development, and regulation, as well as counter drone technology, now has to move to the top of the list if we are to maintain confidence in the safety of our airports and air travel generally.”
He continued: “It was no great surprise to hear about the disruption at Gatwick, which was caused by one or more airborne drones being flown within the airport airspace, and an incident of this nature and magnitude was pretty much inevitable at some point.
"Clearly the situation could have been much worse, and we have to be thankful that there was no harm caused to people or property, but the incident highlights the deficiencies in regulation and control of airborne drones and, in particular, their use near to controlled, or sensitive, airspace.
“The Transport Minister, Baroness Sugg, has acknowledged that counter drone technology is nowhere near advanced enough to counter such an incident.
"She announced that there would be ongoing consultations with the Police and Security Services in the New Year with a view to improving such technology.
"Clearly this has to be a priority if we are to be in a position to prevent, or at least minimise the impact of such incidents in the future.”
Royds Withy King is one of the only law firms within the UK to have a team dedicated to drone law.
Philip Banks-Welsh is one of a group of 'key enablers' who have been invited by the Dept for Transport and BSI to put forward strategy proposals on a number of key areas concerning the development of drone guidelines, protocols and standards.