Chris Grayling. (Xinhua/Tim Ireland/IANS). Image Source: IANS News

London, Feb 20 : No-fly zones for drones near British airports will be expanded to 5 km (3.106 miles) from 1 km in March, officials said on Wednesday, to avoid disruptions like the recent grounding of flights at Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.

The Transport Ministry said in a statement the new zone will come into force on March 13.

Officials were also drawing up legislation to give police officers powers to stop and search people, suspected of using drones maliciously, Xinhua news agency reported.

The legislation would also allow the police "to access electronic data stored on a drone with a warrant", the statement read.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said people who fly drones near airports were not only acting irresponsibly, but also criminally and could face imprisonment.

Tens of thousands of people were stranded or delayed before Christmas due to drone sightings near Gatwick, one of Britain's busiest airports.

Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest air hub, suspended all departing flights for about an hour in January after a drone sighting.

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