Here’s How Much Jail Time the Drone Operator That Shutdown Gatwick Airport Could Get

Dec 21, 2018

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A drone operator — or perhaps multiple — has been wreaking havoc on London Gatwick Airport (LGW) for the past three days by flying drones in LGW’s airspace, forcing the busy airport to shutdown for days on end during the holiday travel season.

The chief executive of Gatwick, Stewart Wingate, dubbed the incidents “criminal activity.” So, what consequences would the “criminal” face if and when they are apprehended?

Looking at laws in the UK, the answer seems pretty cut and dry. It is a criminal offense in the UK to endanger the safety of an aircraft — a charge that would carry up to a five-year prison sentence if convicted, according to the BBC. The UK also made it illegal to fly a drone within one kilometer (about 0.6 miles) of an airport or above 400 feet in the air. Breaking either of those two regulations could mean five years in prison or an unlimited fine — or potentially both.

The BBC reports that more regulations (and potentially harsher penalties) are likely to come in 2019, when UK lawmakers publish the first draft of a Drone Bill that was commissioned because of the rising number of near misses passenger planes have had with drones.

If a copycat incident were to occur at a US airport, the punishment would likely be more severe.

Under US law, attempting to interfere with the operation of an aircraft comes with a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Back in 2014, a California man was convicted of this charge for shining a green laser pointer into the cockpit of a police helicopter. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

FAA regulations also state that hobbyist drone operators are not allowed to fly within five miles of an airport.

“If someone intentionally disregards the law, and/or operates in a careless and reckless manner, the FAA may take enforcement action against them,” an aviation official told TPG in an email, noting that several governmental departments have the authority to punish rogue drone operators, including the Departments of Defense, Energy, Justice and Homeland Security.

“FAA is working closely with all four departments to support implementation of those authorities and deployment of counter-drone systems to protect vital national missions and assets,” the official said. “We are also confident that the Department of Justice and our partners in the law enforcement community understand the risks posed by unsafe, unauthorized, and malicious operations and would prosecute any such actions to the full extent of the law.”

According to KnowBeforeYouFly.org, an organization that provides resources for hobbyist drone pilots: “Anyone flying in a careless and reckless manner could face civil and criminal penalties, as well as jail time. The FAA could fine you up to $27,500 for civil penalties and/or up to $250,000 for criminal.”

Featured image by PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images.

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