UK airports must invest in anti-drone technology, a senior government minister has said.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said it was only a matter of time before anti-drone measures became an “expectation”.
Speaking at an RAF base on Thursday (January 10), Williamson said it was a “logical” investment.
His comments come after recent disruption at Gatwick and Heathrow airports caused by drone activity.
Gatwick was forced to cease operations for more than 36 hours shortly before Christmas following sightings of a drone in and around the airfield.
And just this week, Heathrow halted departures for an hour following a drone sighting.
The government this week announced new measures to help police tackle drone misuse.
Officers will have additional powers to land, seize and search drones, while the government will expand the use of technology to detect and repel drones from sensitive sites like airports. They will also be able to fine operators for minor drone offences, such as failing to comply with an officer when instructed to land a drone.
From November, drone operators will be required by law to register drones in excess of 250 grams with the CAA and take an online safety test.
Exclusion zones protecting sensitive airspace, such as that above and around airports, have been extended. The government has also pledged to extend the use of counter-drone technology such as geo-fencing.
During the Gatwick disruption, military grade technology was deployed to assist, while transport secretary Chris Grayling said the military had been placed on standby during the Heathrow incident.
Mr Williamson on Thursday said it would not be appropriate to call on the RAF to respond to future incidents, while urging airports to invest.
He told RAF personnel “everyone would be expecting all airports to have this detection... at all commercial airports in future”.
Gatwick has also pledged to invest in anti-drone measures after the incident in December reportedly cost the airport a minimum of £20 million.
Heathrow is understood to have increased its protective measures after Tuesday’s disruption.
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association, or Balpa, said two drone-related incidents in less than a month showed the importance of both airports and the government taking swift action on the matter and investing in drone protection technology.
Strutton praised Heathrow for its response, which involved immediately grounding departing aircraft until it was sure flightpaths were clear.
He added an aircraft or helicopter collision with the drone “had the potential to be catastrophic”.