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  1. Technology
May 19, 2015

Criminals ditch crowbars for drones: 5 examples of illegal drone flights

Should drone use be better controlled? These are some examples of when they have been used illegally.


Concerns are rising about the use of drones, the devices which can be bought for as little as £30 can cause disruption to airports and create big security concerns. It also appears that gangs are using them to identify potential targets for thefts.

Following a FOI request to the Suffolk Constabulary into the number of incidents reported regarding drone use that reveals a small number of reports filed against drones, in total there has been 16 reported incidents with one being reported as being used to identify a property for burglary.

CBR has compiled a list of occasions where drone use has broken the law.

1. Nuclear power stations

A number of illegal flights over and around nuclear power stations in France took place in 2014. The flights took place at night and while authorities were aware of them, they took no action as it was believed that they posed no threat.

EDF confirmed that seven drones had flown over plants’ in a month and that the matter was being investigated.

Considering the public fears regarding the safety of nuclear power, it is surprising that no action was taken to stop these flyovers.

Although it is against the law to fly within a three-mile radius of a nuclear power plant, the deterrent of a £59,000 fine clearly didn’t putoff these inquisitive drone pilots.

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2. Airports

The disruption to airports is clearly a concern for authorities who in the past year have had to shut a Manchester runway for 20 minutes and divert planes. Not only is this a significant safety threat but it is can also lead to a loss of money for the airport and businesses.

The Civil Aviation Authority has already prosecuted two drone users for safety breaches and investigations are underway into others.

This is by far the only case, Stockholm airport was forced to stop flights for over 30 minutes after a drone flew into the airspace and last year a drone came within 20 feet of an Airbus A320 as it landed at Heathrow Airport.

3. National Security

Panic struck at The White House in May after a man piloted a drone around the building. While no harm was caused, the man was arrested and it will have caused quite the stir among the security forces protecting the building.

This isn’t the only case and it raises questions about drone security around the capital building which would no doubt be placed as a target for a terrorist organisation.

At the start of the year, a government employee admitted that they had accidentally flown a drone into the grounds, the man claimed that he had been drinking and lost control.

4. Fire

Fire fighters have an extremely important and dangerous jobs, and sometimes in remote areas it is necessary to use helicopters to help rescue people and to drop water or fire retardant to help control and stop a blaze.

The destruction that a fire can bring also sometimes brings out the media and those looking for a good picture.

In Norway, the heritage village of Laerdalsoyri suffered a huge blaze and the job of the fire fighters was made more difficult by helicopters being delayed due to media drones in the area.

Organisations such as the Professional Society of Drone Journalism exist to establish the ethical and safe framework for drone use. Examples of stopping fire fighting are unlikely to make drones more accepted.

5. Drugs

Everyone is using drones, even drug cartels who have clearly figured out that using a quadcopter drone is a sensible way to get drugs across the border.

In January, a drone carrying 3kg of methamphetamine was found in a car park near San Ysidro, a US border crossing area.

The prototype drone was fitted so that it could take GPS co-ordinates and fly autonomously to its location. In this case though, the drone’s bounty was too heavy and it crashed.

According to the DEA, gangs are manufacturing their own drones so that they can carry more weight and the Drug Enforcement Agency suggests that at least 150 trips using drones are being made every year.

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