Illegal immigrants, drugs and weapons are being brought into the United Kingdom through small airports via light aircraft, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned. The small planes are normally owned by ‘hobby pilots’ and are subject to far fewer checks than their much larger commercial cousins.
The NCA has issued a new leaflet asking people who use smaller airfields to look out for anything suspicious. The advice includes reporting anyone with abnormally large amounts of fuel, or who has been seen transporting chemicals they also want the public to report any suspicious behaviour.
According to NCA figures there are almost 3,000 sites where small aircraft can land away from formal airports. These include aerodromes, small airfields, farmers’ field strips, and helipads. There are also 47,000 pilots licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority and a total of around 20,000 light aircraft registered in the UK. This can make monitoring by authorities difficult.
The activities are said to be similar to those seen in the film ‘Blow’ starring Johnny Depp, where large amounts of cocaine are shipped into America using a fleet of small aircraft. The airstrips they use do not have the capacity to check what is being brought in.
David Armond, Director of the NCA’s Border Policing Command, encouraged people living near potential landing sites to report anything unusual.He told the Daily Telegraph: “You might have seen unfamiliar people in sensitive areas of the airport, or unusual patterns of activity such as night-time airdrops.
“That information could be key to an investigation into an organised criminal network or terrorist group.”
The National Crime Agency is also asking farmers to report planes that they see covered in mud, when they are supposed to be using an airfield with a tarmacked runway. They also warn of inexperienced pilots, and those travelling long distances but only staying for a very short time.
The National Crime Agency became fully operational on 7 October 2013, it replaced the older Serious and Organised Crime Agency. It is often called the British FBI, but has a number of important differences notably that its officers are far fewer powers. Only some NCA officers have the powers of regular Police Constables, others are given the powers of Customs or Immigration Officers.