Despite all the calls for regulation, drones already are regulated: it’s illegal to fly within 1km of an airport, higher than 400ft and beyond 500m from the pilot. The majority of drones now have built in geo-fencing which automatically stops them being flown near an airport.
This is therefore a criminal act designed to disrupt, whether down to activism, an extortion attempt or just idiocy, that deliberately flouted the regulations and probably involved hacking automatic safety systems. If an individual/group is determined to do something like this all the regulation in the world is unlikely to stop them.
There are a multitude of drone defence systems available which it seems Gatwick didn’t have in place, possibly because many are emerging and relatively untested, and possibly due to cost.
There has been negligible enforcement of the regulations already in place much to the frustration of the professional drone industry, those with training, insurance and CAA permissions to operate, who operate safely and responsibly.
Greater regulation and education of recreational drone pilots. The registration system being introduced next November will help, but why aren’t recreational drone pilots required to have insurance in the same way commercial operators are?
Drone manufacturers need to build-in more robust safety and tracking systems to their drones to prevent mis-use
Critical infrastructure needs to be protected from those intent on using drones to cause disruption or worse (possibly including the use of surveillance drones!)
Used correctly drones are a force for good, saving lives, improving safety and productivity so it's vital that the criminal actions of one individual/group don't result in a backlash that harms a growing and important industry.
Legislation, defence systems and education have to catch-up with the technology, but as with any criminal act, deterrence, defence and detection are essential and the only way to stop rogue acts such as this.