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Cheltenham Festival Drone Threat: How Organisers Plan to Tackle the Problem

Drone In-FlightThey are a nuisance that have untold security threats; even bringing Heathrow and Gatwick Airports to their knees over Christmas and into January.

Drones are a new headache for event organisers to tackle, whether they are erroneously flown too close by a well-meaning aviation enthusiast or if something more sinister is afoot.

And there are other reasons for drones to be grounded; including the suspicion that they are being used by nefarious betting groups to stream live footage – helping them to get one step ahead of the bookmakers with their in-play wagering.

With around 65,000 punters expected to attend each day of the Cheltenham Festival, clearly organisers have their work cut out in keeping their guests safe; not helped by this new threat from the sky.

Calling In the Pros

Radar System

So far, the head honchos behind the Cheltenham Festival have remained tight-lipped about their plans to tackle any possible drone threat.

But the Daily Mail, in typical bulldozer fashion, have revealed that the Jockey Club, who own Cheltenham and various other racetracks in the UK, have recruited a specialist firm to help manage any situation that may arise.

Crowded Space utilise technology which enables them to detect when a drone is set to enter an exclusion zone, or where a pilot is deliberately flying too low. The police are then called, and they can take action before the situation escalates into a security threat.

As the brand themselves confirm on their website: “Using the latest technology for detection, our teams stopped over 200 illegal drone flights at major events in 2018 with many arrests and prosecutions.”

According to that Daily Mail news story, the agreement between the Jockey Club and Crowded Space will cover all major racing festivals in 2019, including the Grand National meeting at Aintree later in the year.

There will also be an extension of the public exclusion zone in the surrounding areas to the Prestbury Park track, with the Festival protected by a three-mile exclusion from March 13 onwards.

It’s not the first time that the thorny subject of drone flights has been raised in British racing, with the Racecourse Association – which overlooks all 59 courses in Great Britain – said to be providing guidance on how to prevent and react to drone flights in consultation with the Civil Aviation Authority.

And the British Horseracing Authority’s spokesman, Robin Mounsey, said:

“Responsibility for preventing unauthorised intrusion by drones above a racecourse sits with the racecourses themselves.

“The BHA stewards would become involved if they are asked by the racecourse executive to either delay, or abandon a race or races because drones were on site and causing a risk to horses, participants or the general public.”

A New Kind of Nuisance

Plane on Runway

Unmanned drones have been used in terrorist attacks in places like Syria for a number of years now.

Clearly, the technology is useful for those looking to cause serious harm, and that’s why efforts have been stepped up at the Cheltenham Festival to prevent the unthinkable.

Unfortunately, it can just be the unaware being a bit dozy in how they fly their drones, as appears to be the case in the Gatwick Airport case that halted three days’ worth of flights in the UK just prior to Christmas.

Around 1,000 flights were downed, causing disruption for some 140,000 passengers, after drones were spotted flying perilously closely to the runway.

In the end, no formal arrests were made – apart from one unfortunate couple who were released without charge, and it is believed that any drones in the area were circumstantial and not thought to be part of anything more sinister.