In the aftermath of airport chaos will drones still shape our future?


You might think after the utter bedlam caused at Gatwick Airport in December that drones may have been suffering at the hands of all that bad publicity.

Tens of thousands of people were unable to reach their festive destinations because someone thought it was a smart idea to fly their unmanned aerial vehicle (for that is their proper name) too close to the country’s second busiest airport.

Around a thousand flights were grounded between 19 and 22 December last year, the worst disruption the airport had suffered since the volcanic ash cloud in 2010.

A couple local to the airport, one half of whom liked to tinker with the odd drone, was arrested and held on suspicion of “disrupting services of a civil aviation aerodrome to endanger or likely to endanger safety of operations or persons.”

Try saying that after a couple of Cosmos.

But the duo was later released without charge and, at the time of writing, no further arrests had been made.

The identity of the perpetrator/s remains a mystery, which surprises us in this world of rapid technological advancement. 

You might have thought it would have been easy to track the scoundrels down.

Needless to say, laws have hurriedly been changed to protect airports like Gatwick and it is now a criminal offence to fly a drone within 5km of a runway.

Seems like a sensible idea to us.

Despite this nightmarish scenario, the popularity of drones for both industrial/commercial and personal use, continues to grow at an impressive rate.

The truth of the matter is, these whizzy little devices can be used for a multitude of tasks, saving time, effort and huge amounts of money in some cases.

No longer do you have to charter a light aircraft to get that aerial photo of your house you’ve always longed for, just ask your local drone enthusiast who will be more than happy to oblige.

OK we are being a little facetious, although aerial pictures of your house are pretty cool, but there are so many ways drones can be useful it is a wonder the skies aren’t already a-buzz with them.

In the military world, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have been commonplace for many decades.

The earliest version of a UAV was back in the late 19th century when the Austrian army, attacking Venice, sent 200 explosive balloons towards the city, only one of which successfully detonated in the Italian city.

The rest floated away on a gust of wind, some even drifting back over the Austrian border. Oops.

It is safe to say drones have become a little more sophisticated over the last century and a bit, particularly when it comes to combat and national security.

According to Captain Brian P Tice (US Air Force), who knows what he’s talking about, UAVs were originally used to go to the places too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for mankind.

On a less terrifying level, they are also becoming increasingly useful in day to day life, and it is clear this is just the start of it.

Because of their popularity, and because of incidents such as Gatwick drone-gate, rules around ownership are becoming increasingly tight to reduce the possibility of drone related incidents.

One of our new favourite facts about worldwide drone regulations is that, in the Netherlands, they have trialled trained bald eagles to intercept unlawful UAVs. 

Why are the Dutch always so much cooler than us?

Anyway, aside from those who drone for pleasure (droners? dronites?), these non-piloted airborne devices are now being used for everything from rescue missions to agriculture, construction to deliveries.

They can literally reach the parts humans cannot reach and are quick, inexpensive and efficient all at the same time.

Drones have become invaluable in rescue missions around the world, particularly in the case of earthquakes or other major disasters as victims can much more easily be located and more lives are subsequently saved.

The same applies for emergency services dealing with smaller scale incidents, particularly the police and fire and rescue services.

Which begs the question, what is next for the drone because surely the possibilities are endless?

Could we, in our industry alone, be sending drones out ahead of campaigns to collect data on site, or even to deliver samples on our client’s behalf?

There is no doubt drones will impact on us all in some shape or form in years to come as the facts speak for themselves.

A government report released in 2017 said: “The potential positive uses of drones in the UK are vast: more are being developed all the time.”

The report also contained the findings of a 2015 study by the Teal Group which showed the global aerial drone market will grow from £3.22bn (then) to £11.27bn in 2025.

And a 2016 PwC report estimated the emerging global market for business services using drones at more than £102bn.

Impressive figures indeed.

But while impressive, should we maybe stop and think for a moment about what our skies might look like in years to come?

Yes, the thought of our Friday night takeaway arriving that bit quicker might sound appealing, just so long as we don’t have to swat away a swarm of drones every time we open the front door.


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Andrew Flett