By Ben Glaze
Daily Mail Online – 11 June 2019
Swarms of drones could bring down a jetliner to inflict a devastating terror attack in a "nightmare scenario", MPs were warned today. Commons Defence Committee chairman Julian Lewis raised fears about "the malevolent use of drones", pointing to how planes were used as missiles such as in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and vehicles were driven at pedestrians in the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge atrocities in 2017.
The senior Tory spoke out as MPs grilled drones experts about rules aimed at boosting safety. They come amid mounting fears of a collision – accidental or deliberate – between a device and a passenger jet.
In December, about 140,000 people were caught up in disruption when Gatwick Airport was closed for 33 hours, causing about 1,000 flights to be cancelled or delayed, when drones were spotted. Environmental group Extinction Rebellion has vowed to close Heathrow using such devices at protests against airport expansion. Activists plan a one-day demonstration this month followed by 10 further days in July, unless the Government cancels plans for a third runway.
Britain's estimated 170,000 drone users will have to pay £16 to register themselves as pilots under plans to regulate the hobby and industry. Raising fears about security and a "nightmare scenario", Mr Lewis asked experts:
"We live in an age where airliners have been used as guided missiles against buildings and road vehicles have been used to mow down pedestrians. Do you see any way of preventing a small and determined group of people who want to use drones to cause economic chaos or, even worse, to bring down airliners on crowded, inhabited regions? Is there anything in these regulations that will inhibit their ability to do so?"
He warned of
"a group of terrorists who get together and decide they are going to mount an attack to bring down a low-flying aircraft, perhaps approaching or leaving a major airport, on a residential area".
"We are talking about numbers of victims that would run into possibly the thousands,"
"Is there anything for example to stop people manufacturing in their garages unregistered drones that would be capable if deliberately used for the purpose, either singularly or in a swarm, of bringing down an airliner?"
He asked how many planes would have to be brought down and
"thousands of people killed before society said, 'enough, we cannot put up with this', and there is going to have to be some rather draconian system to stop these devices being used as weapons".
Speaking at a joint sitting of the Commons Defence and Science and Technology Committees, Civil Aviation Authority policy chief Tim Johnson said:
"Existing regulations are very much focused on aviation safety."
Other agencies were responsible for counter-terror measures and to foil those trying to wreak chaos at airports, he added. He said:
"Ultimately all the regulatory framework can do and the law can do and the way in which we enforce it is focused on those who act lawfully."
Richard Parker, of Altitude Angel Drone Services, admitted:
"The way the registration system is designed, you can only really understand who is at fault once you have recovered the drone. In the most tragic scenarios, that would mean once a terrorist has detonated the vehicle."
"The goal of a registration system isn't to prevent a terrorist attack."