Labour called for an inquiry last night as ministers were accused of a catalogue of errors that exposed our vulnerability to drone attacks.
Yesterday it emerged Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had shelved drone legislation due for publication last spring as staff were diverted to work on Brexit.
Labour’s transport spokesman Andy McDonald said: “The Government was repeatedly warned about the risks posed by drones to aviation but failed to act.
“They have taken their eye off the ball. The scale of disruption demands that we find out how this was allowed to happen, which is why Labour are calling for an independent inquiry.”
Pilots’ union BALPA first issued calls for Britain to be turned into a “safe drone zone” four years ago. In April last year the group wrote to Mr Grayling demanding swift action and warning of “life-threatening” risks.
In July last year Gatwick was closed twice due to drones, and this year one came within 20ft of a plane.
A former Virgin Atlantic security boss said drones were favoured by terrorists abroad.
Andy Blackwell added: “I am concerned that because of the impact and publicity this has had that we will see copycat activity.”
Professor David Dunn, an international politics expert, co-authored a report with ex-GCHQ head Sir David Omand calling for urgent measures like anti-drone systems at airports.
Prof Dunn Head, of Birmingham University, said: “British and American forces use drones to kill in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and so there is propaganda value in using drones to attack us.”
Meanwhile, the Sunday Mirror has learned Home Office cuts may have led to shortages in specially trained police flight path protection teams.
UK must plug security hole says ex British Military Intelligence colonel
Be under no illusion, the disruption caused at Gatwick is an attack on part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure.
It is not an incident, it is not accidental, it is deliberate and the motivation at the time of writing remains unknown.
Gatwick’s chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe has correctly described this as “unprecedented”.
In risk parlance it is what would be described as a “Black Swan” event – i.e. one that deviates beyond the norm and is extremely difficult to predict.
The Aviation and Border Security conference in London last month discussed emerging threats from drones used by extremists and misguided hobbyists. But there was no intelligence to suggest anything like this was being planned.
Similarly, a risk assessment by the Civil Aviation Authority highlighted the danger of a drone hitting a plane – but didn’t mention closing an airport because of a deliberate, disruptive attack.
This episode illustrates the very real vulnerability of airports to drones and raises the spectre of copycats, terrorists and criminals launching further attacks.
So very real measures to mitigate the threat will now have to be taken.
Given the sheer size of an airport and that drones can top 40mph for over 30 minutes, the threat area is huge. And you can’t practically shoot them down or disable them electronically under current laws.