Labour accuses Chris Grayling of 'abject failure' as Gatwick drone causes travel mayhem

Posted On: 
21st December 2018

Labour has accused ministers of "abject failure" after rogue drones grounded all flights at one of Britain's biggest airports.

All flights have been cancelled at Gatwick for days.

Shadow aviation minister Karl Turner said the Department for Transport could have prevented the 32-hour shutdown at Gatwick - which has affected more than 100,000 passengers - by "immediately" bringing in long-promised new rules on the use of the airborne devices.

Ministers said in July that a draft Drones Bill - which includes plans for on-the-spot fines and the ability to seize drones that are being misused - would be published "later this year".

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But a consultation on the plans closed in September - with the Department for Transport now saying it will "issue a response in early 2019".

Speaking on BBC's Newsnight, Mr Turner took aim at Transport Secretary Chris Grayling over the apparent delay, and demanded to see the bill after the Christmas break.

"What the government need to do after this recess is bring forward legislation immediately, in my view, so the experts - who know more about it, frankly, than politicians, can be giving evidence to the bill committee and we can get the legislation right to ensure that we can mitigate against the misuse of drones," he said.

"And that's the failure of government, I'm afraid."

Tweaks to existing rules came into force in July, imposing new height and airport boundary restrictions on drones and bringing in a maximum five-year sentence for those found "recklessly or negligently" using the devices "in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft".

But the Labour frontbencher said those changes did not go far enough.

He told Newsnight: "What we've been saying, and what industry have been saying is that the regulations are not tight enough.

"For example, there should be wider exclusion zones around airports. I think the law says one kilometre at the moment. It should probably be five kilometres according to the experts. 

"The Government should have brought this legislation forward: it's been an abject failure and I blame Chris Grayling. 

"He should have been in the House of Commons today making a statement and explaining to MPs why the Government has failed to bring this legislation forward."

Thousands of passengers remained stranded at Gatwick on Friday as limited services started to run again.

Police are meanwhile still hunting for the operator of the devices, with Sussex Police saying the force would "do what we can to take that drone out of the sky."

Speaking on Thursday night, Mr Grayling called for "the maximum possible" punishment for those found responsible.

The Transport Secretary said: "This is clearly a very serious ongoing incident in which substantial drones have been used to bring about the temporary closure of a major international airport."

He added: "The people who were involved should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for the damage they have done. The government is doing everything it can to support Sussex police."