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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

Gatwick Airport: Runway closed after drone sightings

Police said the drone action was a deliberate attempt to cause disruption

Passengers wait around in the terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the closure of the airport. Reuters
Passengers wait around in the terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the closure of the airport. Reuters

Thousands of passengers faced disruption on Thursday after several sightings of drones near London Gatwick led to all flights at Britain’s second busiest airport being suspended or cancelled.

The airport is not expected to reopen until at least 10pm GMT. The military is to be sent to Gatwick to expedite its reopening, although defence secretary Gavin Williamson did not say in what capacity.

The runway was closed on Wednesday evening after two drones were spotted nearby. It was briefly reopened in the early hours of Thursday morning, before another drone was seen around the airfield.

Gatwick's chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said there had been several more drone sightings throughout Thursday meaning the runway could not be reopened.

"Each time we're ready to reopen, there's another drone sighting," he told Sky News.

Police said the drone action was a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights but added that there were no indications to suggest it was terror related.

The disruption has affected an estimated 110,000 passengers travelling in the pre-Christmas rush.

Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said the incident highlighted a "wider strategic challenge for aviation in this country which we need to address together with speed."

"It cannot be right that drones can close a vital part of our national infrastructure in this way. This is obviously a relatively new technology and we need to think through together the right solutions to make sure it cannot happen again," he added.

Mr Wingate said he was not in a position to comment on when normal services would resume.

Gatwick apologised for the delays on Twitter but said “the safety of our passengers and staff is our number one priority”.

Easy Jet cancelled all flights on Thursday intended to depart or arrive into Gatwick, and said further delays were expected heading into Friday.

Mr Woodroofe said police were trying to find a way to disable the drone.

"We also have the helicopter up in the air but the police advice is that it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets," he told BBC radio, adding that police were looking for its operator.

Flying a drone within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary is a criminal offence in Britain.

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Gatwick has advised passengers not to travel to the airport without confirming their flight status with their airline.

Many passengers took to social media to air their frustration at the ongoing delays.

Kate Smith wrote: “Sitting on a plane on the runway (2 boys and hubs.). Supposed to be flying to our once in a lifetime trip to NZ. #unhappy #hopefullywontmissconnection.”

While Lyndsey Clarke, whose plane was diverted to Stansted, reported that some passengers on her flight had begun to get impatient at the delays.

Flights have been diverted to other airports including London Heathrow, Luton, Birmingham and Manchester. Some were diverted as far away as Paris or Amsterdam.

Christopher Lister, who was flying from Kiev to Gatwick, had his flight diverted to Birmingham.

He said passengers had been waiting for over six hours to disembark the flight.

There were 92 recorded incidents of near collisions between unmanned drones and commercial aircraft in Britain last year.

The rising number of near misses- a threefold increase since 2015- has fuelled safety concerns in the aviation industry.

Updated: December 20, 2018 10:41 PM

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