Ports and airports received a wake-up call on the disruptive impact of drones last week as a UK airport was closed for more than a day by unmanned aerial vehicles.
More than 750 flights and 125,000 passengers were affected when London Gatwick was closed by drones for 1.5 days. Authorities cancelled all flights to and from Gatwick airport on Wednesday night and Thursday (20 December), with flights finally recommencing on 21 December.
Although unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are less dangerous to shipping than aircraft, they can still disrupt maritime operations. For example, as a disruptor to crane operations in a port or as a tool for signal jamming, conversation intercepting or system hacking.
These are some of the reasons why the Port of Amsterdam started a pilot project with a drone detection company to gain a better understanding of negative and positive UAV operations.
Martek Marine Systems is providing its marine anti-drone system for this detection project. It will allow the port operator to understand current and future drone use and identify threats to port infrastructure, shipping and harbour operations from UAVs.
There are lessons to be learnt from this week’s Gatwick airport closure as authorities were still searching for the UAVs and the pilots that successfully closed the runway for around 36 hours.
UK transport secretary Chris Grayling said drone activity around Gatwick was unprecedented and that these levels of disruption have not been encountered before. He then explained that mitigating processes were in place and measures were enacted to prevent this from happening again. Police were given authority to shoot down any drones that they considered would cause disruption to airline operations.
However, a UAV pilot/s have demonstrated how drones can cause disruption. Ports, whether they are air or sea ports, need to use this as a wake-up call and take the example of the Port of Amsterdam and begin reviewing methods to detect, manage and prevent drones from affecting port operations.