The Gatwick fiasco

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The Gatwick Fiasco. Or how the second largest and busiest airport in the UK couldn't handle a drone alert and ruined the Christmas plans of 150.000 people. Including me.

I'm sure you all heard what happened a few days ago. Alerts of drones flying near the airport runway caused a shutdown of all operations. Every flight on Wednesday got cancelled. Then, on Thursday, it happened again when I arrived at the airport. And only for the one hour that prevented my plane from landing.

So far, nobody has seen any footage or video recordings of these drones. Which is pretty astonishing. We live in the sharing age, so everybody is always ready to record with their phones. And London is one of the most controlled cities in the world. There would be CCTV cameras in toilets if they were legally allowed!
But no. Nothing. These drones kept flying, close enough for people to see them and raise the alarm. And the army was out there searching for them. But there is not a single photo or video of the event.

You can understand I'm pretty angry at this whole thing.

The problems

Obviously, I had to cancel my Christmas family reunion. I was there the second day The Gatwick Fiasco happened, so all the next flights were already booked by 75.000 people disrupted the day before. I talked to some Italians who even tried to rent a car to go back, but none were left available.
And only because I was unfortunate enough to be there at the wrong time.

But what I'm very much mad about is that this is causing a lot of problems for those who regularly (and legally) fly drones for sport, fun or work.
This is already a very hot topic. I own a drone and use it to take photos from high in the sky. But like many others, I always fly responsibly and abide by the rules. No flying over crowds or near airports (duh), no flying in restricted areas, no above 400ft, etc.

But not everybody is as sensible. There are a few people, with a large Instagram following, that simply don't care and keep flying illegally.
When you see, for example, a beautiful photo of an aerial shot right above the Gherkin… That was shot illegally. When you see Tower Bridge from an impossible point of view right above the Thames… That was shot illegally.
But these photos are outstanding and, of course, generate a lot of engagement. So the photographers are motivated to keep acting illegally over and over. Even brands endorse them: photographer Ben Moore became a Nikon official photographer following the success of his illegal activity (and because Nikon needed to fill their minority quota).

You have a responsibility here: just stop liking these photos and encouraging them.

The Gatwick Fiasco, but drone photos can be taken legally
You can always shoot great drone photos that are perfectly legal – Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

The impact

This is still a young technology, and regulations are slow to respond. But events like the Gatwick Fiasco are only going to make things worse for everybody. Particularly to those who fly legally because they'll have fewer chances to do so, while criminals will keep flying regardless. And being rewarded for it.

By the way, ignorance is never an excuse. Plenty of well-made apps tell you whether you can fly in your area. And some drones are already blocked by manufacturers, but then people unlock them, not thinking about the consequences.

We may reach a point where governments will ban drones altogether, which is already the case in some countries. But to be fair they were never allowed in the first place (i.e. Morocco: don't even try to carry one).
Or legalise everything because it's easier and hope for the best.

The UK's skies are some of the busiest anywhere in the world. There’s always a lot going on, especially with all the planes that fly in and out of the country. As things stand, it’s against the law to fly a drone within 5km of any UK airport. You must not fly a drone within 400ft above an airport, approximately 120m.
This law has been put in place to protect you and others. It's important that we all follow it.

The future

I'm all for adding regulations and enforcing licences to fly drones, but there needs to be at least some control. We can't keep seeing aerial photos shot illegally, only for a bunch of likes on Instagram. Because at the end more events like the Gatwick Fiasco will happen, if not something worse.

And you should question all you see on social media: was the drone photo shot legally? Don't just give likes to everything you see and definitely not to illegal activities.


update December 2023: a plane carrying up to 242 passengers came “very close” to colliding with a drone near Heathrow airport.

Oh, And…

If you're somebody who sees conspiracies everywhere, you will love this… Gatwick airport was sold to a French company 2 days after the event.
Was it all orchestrated to lower the price? Why is there still no video footage at all?

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Creative. Nomad. Photographer. (he/him) /// formerly: Creative Director, UX Lead, DesignOps Manager, Web/Graphic Designer, Photographer, YouTuber, DJ, Public Speaker, Content Creator, AI-enthusiast, Food-Blogger... /// Award-winning Designer and Photographer, published and exhibited worldwide /// also known as Koan (DJ, Design)

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