Watch how a rogue drone caused major disruption at a busy airport

This past July a rogue drone was spotted in airspace close to Gatwick, one of the U.K.’s busiest airports. Its appearance forced the temporary closure of the airport’s runway, causing major disruption to flights that were preparing to land there.

Air traffic controllers stopped planes coming in for a total of 14 minutes, but even that relatively short period of time caused a major hassle for airport officials.

A fascinating video (above) released by the U.K.’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the country’s main air navigation service provider, uses computer graphics to visualize the disruption caused by the drone that day, offering an insight into the kind of challenges controllers face when drones fly into restricted zones close to their airport.

In the video we can see how the holding areas for incoming aircraft quickly became congested as airport staff searched frantically for the operator of the drone. As the incident continued, some planes were even forced to land at other airports many miles away because they were running low on fuel and had no idea how long they would have to wait.

The drone initially forced the runway to close for nine minutes. It then disappeared, allowing flights to resume. But 17 minutes later it was spotted again, forcing controllers to suspend flights for a second time, this time for five minutes.

The drone disappeared for good at 6.41 p.m., allowing the runway to reopen, but NATS says in the video that the knock-on effect “extended into the evening” because controllers had to clear the stacked planes and reschedule arrival times for other incoming aircraft.

Increasing reports of rogue drones flying close to airports mirror the rapid rise in consumer drone ownership, and officials at airports around the world are concerned about a possible catastrophe if a drone collides with an aircraft in mid-air.

In October, 2017 a drone struck a passenger plane over Quebec City in Canada in what’s thought to be the first incident of its kind. Fortunately, the plane suffered only minor damage and was able to land safely.

Canada’s transport minister, Marc Garneau, said at the time that the potential for a catastrophic accident involving a drone and an aircraft is “the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps me up at night,” though he acknowledged that “the vast majority” of drone operators fly their machines responsibly.

As for NATS, it offers a note of caution at the end of its video: “If you’re operating a drone, you are a pilot,” the message says, adding that it’s “your responsibility to fly it safely.”

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