Airports remain vulnerable to drones

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A drone hovering near some barbed wire.
Travel

The chaos caused at the UK’s Gatwick Airport by the appearance of a rogue drone has shown into sharp relief the lack of safeguards in place for such events, even when it comes to key infrastructure such as international airports. And a drone expert has warned that most of the world’s airports and leading destinations remain dangerously vulnerable to ‘criminal or rogue mayhem’ driven by a rapidly expanding market that many do not fully understand.

Robert Garbett, Founder and Chief Executive of global drone and counter-drone consultancy Drone Major Group, warns that there is very low awareness among the business community of the ‘extraordinary’ pace at which drone technology is evolving. “This makes staying ahead of the threat posed by those who would abuse this technology challenging,” he said, “for even the most competent of businesses and management teams.”

Garbett likened the current commercial air drone market to the Wild West – exciting and representing economic possibilities that are in many ways unprecedented. “However,” he warned, “there will always be those who would flaunt laws and regulation to cause maximum disruption around the world. This particularly impacts on more vulnerable sectors such as airports, financial centres, energy facilities, stadiums and concert venues, which require tailored defence strategies to protect against what is a new and real safety challenge.”

He then pointed to the fact that in many areas, the strategies being adopted to counter the ever-growing drone threat are those that have been developed by the British Armed Forces. The technologies that are being adopted to help this fight are evolving as quickly as the threat, but Garbett warned that it is often very difficult to keep track of the technologies available and ascertain which are the most effective. “This is one reason why the rapid, often knee-jerk adoption of such technology in the face of media pressure, while sometimes providing a short-term fix, can often be a long-term error of judgment,” he said. “And, in isolation of appropriate policies and procedures, rarely effective.”

His advice to businesses and other organisations that are spooked by recent events is not to rush into a poorly thought-out defensive strategy, but to think ‘strategically’, consult experts and avoid splashing out what could be huge amounts of money on technologies and procedures that won’t solve the problem.

“Criminals and rogue drone operators will always exist,” Garbett concluded, “but their task will be made much more difficult by an increasingly informed business community, the putting in place of more sophisticated counter-drone strategies, the implementation of the forthcoming ‘Drone Bill’ within the UK and the adoption of the new aerial drone Standards which were launched for public and peer group consultation in November 2018 by the International Standards Organisation.”