Extended drone no-fly zone is welcomed by bosses at Leeds Bradford Airport

Leeds Bradford Airport.
Leeds Bradford Airport.
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A drone no-fly zone around airports has been extended after a string of safety incidents which grounded planes and caused chaos for travellers.

Bosses at Leeds-Bradford Airport have welcomed new legislation banning the gadgets, which can be bought for less than £20 on the high street, from being flown within 3.1 miles of airports.

Previously, only a 0.6-mile exclusion zone was in place.

The law has been strengthened after drone sightings at London Gatwick in December caused around 1,000 flights to be cancelled or diverted over 36 hours, affecting more than 140,000 passengers in the run-up to Christmas.

London Heathrow and Dublin Airports have also been forced to suspend flights due to drone activity in recent weeks.

There were 125 near-misses between drones and aircraft reported in 2018, up 34 per cent on the total of 93 during the previous year. Just six incidents were recorded in 2014.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “The UK has been consistently at the forefront of legislation to tackle drone misuse.

“All drone users should be aware that flying a drone within 5km of an airport or over 400ft is a serious criminal act, one which could put lives at risk, and risks penalties ranging from significant fines to a life sentence.”

In January an investigation by the JPI Media Data Team for The Yorkshire Post found that drone safety incidents included a near miss with a Beong 737 which was preparing to land at Leeds Bradford Airport.

It was rated as a major incident after the craft missed the airline by an estimated 1,000ft.

Another incident last June saw the highest reported sighting of a drone by a pilot at 15,500ft, nearly 40 times the legal maximum. The drone came within 100ft of an Airbus 321 which had just left Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

Phil Forster, head of external affairs at Leeds Bradford, said: "We want everyone to be aware of the new rules to ensure they do not accidentally break the law, endangering passengers and facing penalties as a result.

"Drones have lots of potential but it is vital they are not misused."

Anyone caught recklessly or negligently endangering an aircraft with a drone can be handed a prison sentence of up to five years.

The intentional use of a device to commit an act of violence at an airport which could cause death, serious personal injury or endanger safe operations could result in life in prison under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act.

The Government is drafting a Drones Bill which will help the police catch those misusing the gadgets, including the ability to access data stored on a drone with a warrant, and stop and search powers over drone users near airfields.

Aviation Minister Liz Sugg will meet drone manufacturers next week to discuss how to tackle criminal misuse of their products.

The Home Office said it is also reviewing the UK’s approach to countering the malicious use of drones and is considering how best to protect critical infrastructure.