Malicious drone incident

Impact 5
upper risk error bar
upper likelihood error bar
risk indicator
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Impact & Likelihood
Impact key
5 Catastrophic
4 Significant
3 Moderate
2 Limited
1 Minor
Likelihood key
5 >25%
4 5-25%
3 1-5%
2 0.2-1%
1 <0.2%


The use of drones has increased significantly in recent years, both for business and pleasure purposes. UK law now dictates that registration with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is mandatory for operators of drones over 250 grams and all drones other than toys that are fitted with a camera. It is illegal to fly in an airport’s flight restriction zone unless specific permissions have been granted.

There are multiple ways in which a drone could be used maliciously. In 2018 a sighting of a drone at Gatwick airport resulted in significant disruption to flights. Work is ongoing between various government departments, the CAA, industry, and police to maintain risk analysis and continually strengthen mitigations against future malicious drone incidents.


One planning scenario is based on the malicious use of a drone at an airport, which could cause disruption and safety concerns. It should be noted that drones are a novel vector to commit crimes and attacks. We actively plan for all types of potential disruption and threat that may result from negligent, criminal, or terrorist use of drones, not just that of airport disruption.

Key assumptions

Assumptions vary by scenario, however for the airport disruption scenario described above: It is assumed for the purposes of the assessment that the airport is operating at pre-COVID levels. The risk would not concur at the same time as another major event and the perpetrator is assumed to have malicious intent.

Response capability requirements

Relevant capabilities will vary by scenario. For the airport disruption scenario described above: Specialised police counter-drones capabilities would be required to respond to the incident. Police work, alongside further investigative methods (for example forensic scrutiny of a downed drone), would be used to identify and apprehend malicious users.