Sebastian grochowicz WE0 F Is9 R Bac unsplash resized

How drones obstruct air traffic at UK airports: am I entitled to compensation?

Monday, September 16, 2019

In December 2018, drones approached Gatwick airport causing mass delays, cancellations, flight diversions and, eventually, the complete stand still and shut down of the airfield. The disruption lasted several days and easyJet passengers were even advised to stay at home and not to head to the airport. The incident resulted in £1.4 million in costs for the airport and easyJet claims to have spent more than £15 million in compensation and care provided to passengers. Add to the tab the lost revenue from flights simply not operating.

How do drones obstruct air traffic?

Drones obstruct air traffic as airports operate on a just-in-time basis, meaning that each plane has a defined time slot in which it can take-off or land. For example, at Heathrow Airport planes move onto and off one of the runways every 45 seconds on average. If a drone flies into an airplane’s airspace then this flight is classified as ‘unsafe’ and then take-off is postponed.

As it is extremely unpredictable what a drone might do or where it will fly, air traffic control shuts down the runway for passenger and crew safety.

What are the regulations for drones operating near airports?

Drones at airports

In order for aircraft to arrive and depart safely, drones are banned from flying in the vicinity of an airport. These were the precise rules for drone operations near airports before the issue at Gatwick airport:

  • Drones must stay under 120 metres flight altitude.
  • Drones cannot be flown in a radius of 1km from an airport or airfield

In the wake of the drone incident that completely shut down Gatwick, the legislation was modified and drones are now restricted from flying within 5km from the end of runways.

Can I claim compensation if my flight was delayed or cancelled because of a drone?

Unfortunately, passengers are not entitled to compensation if their flight has been disrupted by a drone. However, according to the Regulation EC261/2004 passengers are entitled to receive appropriate care and seeing to by the airline if a lengthy disruption occurs.

The Regulation classifies that an airport closure caused by an external factor as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’, meaning that the incident at Gatwick was out of the airline’s control. Essentially, the airlines are not required to pay compensation for delayed or cancelled flights.

Despite of this, if your flight was cancelled and the airline did not offer you a replacement flight or if you did not end up flying voluntarily, you are entitled to a refund of the flight’s cost.

Statements from easyJet and British Airways on compensation due to drone issues

Easyjet claimed that customers were entitled to claim for ‘some expenses’ but that the airline was not forced to pay compensation according to the EU Regulation.

Similarly, British Airways announced that passengers were able to claim for any expenses that occurred in instances of delays or cancellations. Additionally, both airlines offered passengers the opportunity to rebook their flights or to refund their tickets.

Friday, September 13: Attempt to shut down Heathrow Airport with drone

On Friday the 13th of September, climate activists attempted to shutdown Heathrow airport in light of aviaton's contribution to climate change. However, the incident was prevented as the drone was spotted early and the 19 members involved were arrested by authorities. 2 members of the group were drone pilots.

Before the arrest the group called ‘Heathrow Pause’ announced it intended to fly the devices within the 5km (3.1 mile) exclusion zone around the airport. The aim of the protest was to bring attention to the environmental damage that the creation of a planned third runway would bring forth.

Why is drone activity a growing fear for airports such as Heathrow or Gatwick airport?
Heathrow airport

Drone activity around airports is a growing fear for passengers and an incremental risk to smooth airport activity. Particularly, Europe’s largest airport Heathrow airport would suffer greatly if a drone incident were to happen and obstruct air traffic on a more frequent basis.

Regular drone activity around airports could lead to flight delays and cancellations with further disruptions to other flight schedules all around Europe and the world. Airlines and airports are, naturally, keen on avoiding such circumstances as they are aware of the million pounds in losses made by both parties due to the incident at Gatwick Airport in December 2018.

It is evident that drone activity around air space has increased, generally under the intention of sabotaging aeronautical activity. This problem will prevail as an important issue in aviation in the future

If your flight was delayed or cancelled and you’ve arrived at your final destination, check your flight for free and find out immediately if you can claim compensation. If you wish to do so, Flight-Delayed will take care of your claim under our no win, no fee agreement. If we don’t get the airline to pay you, you don’t have to pay for our services! Best of all, our 25% win fee covers all possible legals costs associated with claiming your compensation.

Check my flight

Don't want to miss out on any new blog entries? like and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Trustpilot-Reviews of