Gatwick Airport: Drones ground flights

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Tens of thousands of passengers have been disrupted by drones flying over one of the UK’s busiest airports.

Gatwick’s runway has been shut since Wednesday night, as devices have been repeatedly flying over the airfield.

Sussex Police said it was not terror-related but a “deliberate act” of disruption, using “industrial specification” drones.

About 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were due to fly on Thursday. Disruption could last “several days”.

An airline source told the BBC flights were currently cancelled until at least 19:00 GMT today.

The airport advised that the runway would not open “until it was safe to do so”.

Those due to travel have been told to check the status of their flight, while Easyjet told its passengers not to go to Gatwick if their flights have been cancelled.

What happened?

The shutdown started just after 21:00 on Wednesday, when two drones were spotted flying “over the perimeter fence and into where the runway operates from”.

The runway briefly reopened at 03:01 on Thursday but was closed again about 45 minutes later amid “a further sighting of drones”.

Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said: “The police are looking for the operator and that is the way to disable the drone.”

He said police had not wanted to shoot the devices down because of the risk from stray bullets.

He said it remained unsafe to reopen the airport after the drone had been spotted too close to the runway.

Mr Woodroofe said: “If we were to reopen today we will first repatriate passengers who are in the wrong place which could take several days.”

More than 20 police units from two forces are searching for the perpetrator, who could face up to five years in jail.

Supt Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey, described attempts to catch whoever was controlling the drones as “painstaking” because it was “a difficult and challenging thing to locate them”.

“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” he said.

How have passengers been affected?

About 10,000 passengers were affected overnight on Wednesday and Gatwick said 110,000 people were due to either take off or land at the airport on Thursday.

Incoming planes were diverted to other airports including London Heathrow, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow, Paris and Amsterdam.

Crowds of travellers spent the morning waiting inside Gatwick’s terminal for updates, while others reported being stuck on grounded planes for hours.

A Gatwick spokeswoman said extra staff had been brought in and the airport was “trying their best” to provide food and water to those who needed it.

About 11,000 people are stuck at the airport, Mr Woodroofe said.

A number of flights bound for Gatwick were diverted to other airports overnight, including seven to Luton, 11 to Stansted and five to Manchester. Other flights have landed at Cardiff, Birmingham and Southend.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it considered this event to be an “extraordinary circumstance”, and therefore airlines were not obligated to pay any financial compensation to passengers.

Alex Neill, from consumer rights group Which?, said people “may still be entitled to meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation or transfers”.

 

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