Drones cause flight chaos at Gatwick Airport

Written by Hannah McGrath

Unmanned drones have caused holiday travel chaos and disrupted flights for 10,000 travellers at Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport.

All scheduled flights in and out of Gatwick have reportedly been suspended until 7pm today (Thursday), after runways briefly reopened at 3:01am following reports of drones flying over the airfield last night.

Flights were then suspended again after unmanned aircraft appeared this morning, leaving thousands of passengers waiting at Gatwick or on diverted flights to other airports.

A statement from Gatwick said passengers were “strongly advised not to travel to the airport without first checking the status of their flights”.

A post on the airport’s social media feed said: “All flights remain suspended from Gatwick today, due to ongoing drone activity around the airfield. There is significant disruption, as a result of what appears to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights.”

The airport said 760 flights were scheduled to arrive or depart from the airport today, with a total of 110,000 passengers. It has yet to confirm when runways will reopen. Officials at Gatwick airport said flights could be delayed for the next 24 hours following hours of disruption.

The last confirmed sighting of a drone in the area was at 9:15am this morning.

Flights into the UK from Europe that had been due to land at Gatwick have also been severely affected.

Sussex police have a launched a wideranging search for the individuals controlling the drones’ activity and prime minister Theresa May has branded the actions from those behind the disruption “irresponsible and unacceptable”.

Sussex Police superintendent Justin Burtenshaw, the policing commander for Gatwick Airport, said there had been no prior intelligence that the drone launch was going to happen in Gatwick’s airspace, explaining that it was “a random act that’s happened overnight”.

He added: "We believe this to be a deliberate act to disrupt the airport. However, there are absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror related."

Gatwick’s chief operating officer Chris Woodroffe told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the decision had been taken not to shoot down the drones due to safety concerns around ricocheting bullets.

Standard drones have around 30 minutes of battery power, leading some experts to suggest that the one of the drones is of industrial standard.

It is illegal to fly drones 400 meters above and within a one kilometre zone of an airport boundary and those found guilty could face up to five years in prison.

The UK government is due to publish the results of a consultation into the regulation of drones in early 2019, with the potential for new frameworks for the use of technology that could be used to protect national infrastructure from possible malicious drone incursions.