Airport drone chaos foreshadows the dangers of technology

Opinion 22/12/2018
Gatwick Airport on Friday. Photo: Reuters.

By Rodney Hide, former ACT Party leader.

OPINION: Spare a thought for the poor passengers at Gatwick Airport. Over 100,000 have been stranded and up to 350,000 have had their Christmas travel plans threatened.

The cause? A drone. Or drones.

For 48 hours every time the airport opened, a drone would appear, which would immediately close the airport once more. A collision with a drone could bring a plane down with catastrophic result.

All the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men couldn’t get that drone. There were snipers, the army, squads of police and helicopters. They were under immense pressure. They couldn’t get the drone or the drone operator.

It’s amazing, is it not, that a device that can be bought at your local store for a few hundred dollars can cause such disruption and potentially such catastrophe?

We have learned that drones are what’s called geofenced so that they are blocked out of airports like Gatwick. These drones must have been hacked.

We have learned that the maximum punishment for the offender. If caught, they will face five years in jail. That's not much, considering the disruption caused and the potential for catastrophe.

Gatwick has now opened. Early this morning the Army’s multi-million “drone-dome” system that was deployed in Syria to defeat ISIS drones was deemed successful in ensuring aircraft safety.

The saboteur or saboteurs remain at large. They may never be caught.

Their motivation remains a mystery.

We live at a time when just a few can divert wonderful technology to cruel and twisted ends. Jetliners and skyscrapers are technological marvels and a boon to the world. Yet were brought to tragic apposition on 9/11.

The drone is a fantastic toy and tool enabling amazing wildlife and other pictures and a boon to everyday industry. It’s also a weapon of war. And now an everyday drone has been used to sinister and potentially catastrophic purpose against civilians in an attempt to cause maximum disruption and inconvenience.

No lives were lost and that’s a cause for celebration. It can’t be easy making the call to close an airport. And now the backlog can be cleared. Life can get back to normal.

But nothing will be same. There will be law changes and even more security at great expense and inconvenience around airports and other public places.

That’s the impact the very few can have on the great many.

I hope the saboteurs are caught so we can understand why they did it. And I would like to see them punished and reviled. It doesn’t seem right that they can just slink away and carry on with their lives.

Meanwhile, it’s Christmas. We are safe. The systems worked. And a great many children around the world will be overjoyed to find a drone in their Christmas stocking. They will have a lot of fun with them.

We are truly blessed to live in a such wonderful world. Merry Christmas everyone.

Rodney Hide speaks all things politics every Saturday on RadioLIVE’s Weekend Life.