There have been hundreds of reported near misses involving commercial aircraft and hobbyist drones to date. Now, thanks to Britain's national air traffic control provider, we can visualize the disruption that these near misses cause.London's Gatwick airport closed its runway for two separate periods on July 2 after a possible drone was reported flying in the vicinity of the runway's final approach path, disrupting flights well into the night.
The incident's effects are demonstrated in this video, published by the UK's air traffic control service provider NATS, showing the actual radar display of Gatwick air traffic control receiving data from approaching aircraft transponders."Our first job was to divert aircraft coming into land away from the runway. This meant tactically manoeuvring aircraft to avoid the runway," explained Eric Cilliers, a NATS operations supervisor, on the NATS blog.In the video, several aircraft are seen diverting from their approach to Gatwick and entering two regular holding patterns around the airport (the one southeast of the runway is called Timba, while the one southwest is called Willo)."You can see this in the radar replay footage below. With the runway closed, these holds soon started to fill up and it wasn't long before we had to open the contingency hold— Mayfield—as well," wrote Cilliers.The UK's Airprox Board, which investigates air incidents, says there have been 33 reported cases of drones flying near aircraft in 2017 already. While none of them have resulted in an actual collision, the NATS video clearly demonstrates the thousands of pounds worth of fuel, the hours of delays, and countless headaches caused for air traffic controllers and pilots when a drone is reported to be flying near an airport. And just in case you think a small, consumer drone is no match for a commercial aircraft, take a look at this recent crash test footage showing the damage they can actually do in a collision.Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.