The first airport test of a drone surveillance system has taken place at London Southend airport.

The system aims to spot drones much sooner than previously possible and allows them to be tracked.

It also identifies exactly where the operator is located, offering the possibility of them being apprehended.

The week-long trial comes as airports struggle against rogue drones, with as many as four sightings a week in the London airspace area alone.

Gatwick was forced to suspend operations last July after a drone was sighted near the runway, resulting in delays for thousands of passengers and considerable costs to the airport.

A series of ‘tame’ drones were deployed near Southend airport in order to test how the equipment worked in an ‘as live’ situation.

The equipment involves two airfield sensors which offer 360-degree coverage up to 4kms – in all weathers, 24 hours a day – feeding back real-time information to a control ‘station’ located with the air traffic control team.

Southend airport air traffic services head Damon Knight said: “We do not have any outstanding issues with ‘rogue’ drone operations at London Southend, but we have had some sightings near the airport which fortunately have not affected our operations.

“However, we recognise that there is a wider problem for the aviation industry and so as an airport we have been very involved in understanding how we can deal with the issue and helping to explore ways to co-ordinate drone activity in the existing aviation operational framework.”

Glyn Jones, chief executive of airport owner Stobart Aviation, added: “When we heard about the potential benefits of this new technology for the whole aviation industry we were only too pleased for London Southend to lead the way and help in trialling it.

“We are delighted this week has been a success and look forward to seeing where this project goes next.”