Gatwick Incident Prompts Concerns Over Drone Safety

PIT working with state and local officials to enforce restrictions on recreational drones

By Bob Kerlik

Published December 21, 2018

Read Time: 2 mins


Reported aerial drone sightings closed London Gatwick Airport for a third day Friday, prompting concerns about drone operation near major airports.

The airport closure has stranded thousands of passengers in London during the busy Christmas travel season and highlighted the importance of drone safety across the world.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration generally mandates that, absent its advanced approval, no recreational drones can be operated within seven miles of airports. Pittsburgh International officials have taken that a step further by successfully working with municipalities around the airport to adopt ordinances that further restrict drone usage in safety critical areas such as the land extending out from the ends of the runways.

“We do think there’s a role for municipalities to regulate drone usage with these types of public safety issues based on land-use ordinances,” said Vince Gastgeb, vice president of community and government affairs. “We want to look locally as to what we can do to prevent anything conceivably bad from happening. Safety is always our top priority.”

Airport officials also plan to work with state leaders on drone safety measures.

Attorney Eric Smith, who works with the Allegheny County Airport Authority on drone regulations, said local involvement is an important component of ensuring the safety of flights around airports.

“It provides an opportunity for educating people about where they can operate drones, puts more feet on the ground, and provides faster response times when incidents do occur,” Smith said. “It’s community-based and geared toward the particular issues for a given airport.”

At Gatwick, the U.K.’s second-busiest airport, drone sightings around the airfield prompted officials to ground flights Wednesday and Thursday. A reported sighting Friday prompted a 90-minute closure. Police and military officials are investigating the incidents, which have ruined travel plans for thousands of Christmas travelers.


  • All aircraft weighing between .55 pounds (250 grams) and 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms), including payloads such as on-board cameras, must be registered with the FAA.
  • Drones must be flown at an altitude no higher than 400 feet.
  • Drones must be kept in visual line of sight of the operator at all times.
  • Drones must NOT be flown near manned aircraft, especially near airports (within 7 miles).
  • Drones must NOT be flown over groups of people, stadiums or sporting events.
  • Drones must NOT be flown near emergency response efforts.


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