Week 9: Drones

My case study is the incident in December 2018 of multiple drone sightings over the runway at Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, which grounded over 1,000 flights and disrupted over 140,000 passengers over a 2-day period. (BBC News, 2019)

Jensen (2016) presents the six dimensions of surveillance, two of which are particularly relevant to this case study. As the authorities are still unclear as to who was responsible for the incident (or the details have not been made publicly available) Dimension 5: Drone Surveillance is being excluded. More applicable is Dimension 2: Eyes on the Street (2016: 72).

This dimension is relevant as most of the drone sighting reports came from members of the public, over 100 of which were from “credible witnesses” (BBC News, 2019). There was no other line of enquiry, not even a photograph of the drones as they were small and moved quickly. Thus, in this instance, it is “engaged citizens” (2016: 72) who are providing the surveillance on behalf of the state, which is a more traditional form of surveillance but relevant as drones are still an unfamiliar sight in our landscape. Previously, surveillance technologies such as CCTV, relied on being attached to a building, object such as a car, or even a mobile phone carried by a person. Now, the “proximity-connectivity nexus” is being “stretched” (2016: 70) by technologies entering the empty spaces in our environment and, as we can see from emerging news bulletins, the public are yet to become familiar with the sight of drones in the air around them.

This leads me to the next of Jensen’s concepts, that of “volumetric thinking” (2016: 71) which is what architects and designers are leaning towards: “The drones in fact articulate the need for further three-dimensional understanding of cities, since many planners have perceived the city by and large on a two-dimensional surface.” (2016: 70). This includes planning and considering the space around the buildings and landscape, which, since December 2018, Gatwick Airport has enforced:

Gatwick Airport not has a flight restriction on drones 5km around the airport, and drones cannot be flown higher than 400ft in the air. Both are offences punishable by fines and up to 5 years in prison. This is an example of Jensen’s “volumetric thinking” in which “the voids and volumes in-between buildings become subject of a new special imagination.” (2016: 71) In my opinion, the next ten years will see an increase in this kind of spacial policing, around airports, public and private spaces and buildings. It will also see an increase in criminal and propriety legislation written into contracts about the use of drones in certain areas.


BBC News. ‘Gatwick Airport drone attack: Police have no lines of enquiry’ <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-49846450 > accessed 02/04/2020

Gatwick Airport. ‘Drone Safety’ <https://www.gatwickairport.com/business-community/aircraft-noise-airspace/airspace/drone-safety/ > accessed 02/04/2020

Jensen, O. (2016) ‘Drone city – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of “Smart Cities”’ Geographica Helvetica issue 71, pp 67-75.




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