More must be done before a drone causes an aircraft disaster, pilots have warned following an incident which forced Gatwick to shut its runway twice yesterday.

The runway was closed for two short periods of nine minutes and five minutes on Sunday evening. Several flights were diverted to other airports, such as Bournemouth and Stansted.

A Gatwick spokesman said: “Due to unconfirmed reports of a drone observation, runway operations at Gatwick were suspended between 6.10pm and 6.19pm and again from 6.36pm to 6.41pm.”

Operations then resumed while policed were called in to investigate. The British Airline Pilots’ Association has been voicing concern about the rise in near misses involving drones.

The pilots’ union’s flight safety specialist Steve Landells said: “Yet another incident at Gatwick involving drones shows that the threat of drones being flown near manned-aircraft must be addressed before we see a disaster.

“Drones can be great fun, and have huge commercial potential, but with a significant increase in near-misses in recent years it seems not everyone who is flying them either know or care about the rules that are in place for good reason.

“While we take no issue with people who fly their drones in a safe and sensible manner, some people who fly them near airports or densely populated areas are behaving dangerously.”

He warned: “We believe a collision, particularly with a helicopter, has the potential be catastrophic.

“Measures should be put in place that will allow the police to identify and locate anyone who flies a drone in an irresponsible way.

“Owing to the huge numbers of drones being sold, more technological solutions will undoubtedly be required to address this problem and should be mandated.

“These should include, amongst other things, geofencing as standard and a system whereby the drone transmits enough data for the police to locate the operator when it is flown in a dangerous manner.

“If the user has endangered an aircraft, we would like to see the culprit prosecuted; endangering an aircraft has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.”

See also:

Heathrow aircraft in drone ‘near miss’ at 10,000ft

Pilots’ union warns of drone strike as ‘close calls’ double

Warning over drones operated by plane spotters