U.K.’s closed after drones fly over runways

Published 20 December 2018

Several sightings of unmanned aerial vehicles over the airport’s runway grounded and rerouted flights overnight. Gatwick is Britain’s second-busiest airport after Heathrow. The police said the drone flights were a “deliberate act to disrupt the airport,” but that there were “absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related.” In July 2018, the United Kingdom made it illegal to fly a drone within one kilometer (0.6 miles) of an airport, in an effort to tackle the issue.

Several sightings of unmanned aerial vehicles over the airport’s runway grounded and rerouted flights overnight. Gatwick is Britain’s second-busiest airport after Heathrow

Two drones flying over London’s Gatwick Airport caused airport officials to suspend and divert flights on Wednesday and Thursday. The airport’s runway remains closed until further notice, following multiple drone sightings that began Wednesday evening. Although the runway was reopened at 3 a.m. GMT on Thursday, another drone sighting 45 minutes later caused it to be closed again.

As a result, planes were unable to depart, while a number of flights scheduled to land were diverted to other airports.

In a statement, Gatwick Airport apologized to passengers for the disruption. “We advise anyone flying from Gatwick or collecting someone from the airport on Thursday 20th December, to check the status of their flight,” the statement read. The message was posted on the airport’s Twitter account.

Gatwick Airport said the incident was being investigated by police and that an update would be issued once authorities had “suitable reassurance that it is appropriate to re-open the runway.”

The Telegraph reports that the police said the drone flights were a “deliberate act to disrupt the airport,” but that there were “absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related.”

We are continuing to search for the operators,” Sussex police said. Authorities wrote on Twitter asking for the public’s help in finding the operator of the drones, including a direct phone line.

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, said the shutdown had affected roughly 10,000 people by Thursday morning, including 2,000 whose planes were not allowed to take off, 2,000 who were unable to leave their points of origin and 6,000 who were diverted to other airports in Britain and Europe. Gatwick Airport reports that some 760 flights were scheduled to arrive and depart Thursday, affecting another 110,000 people.

In July 2018, the United Kingdom made it illegal to fly a drone within one kilometer (0.6 miles) of an airport, in an effort to tackle the issue.

The number of near misses between private drones and aircraft more than tripled between 2015 and 2017. Some 92 incidents were recorded 2017, while 117 have taken place so far this year, according to the UK Airprox Board.

Even two kilograms of metal and plastic, including the battery, hitting an aircraft windscreen, engine, or a helicopter tail rotor, could be catastrophic,” Rob Hunter, head of flight safety at the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said in a recent statement.

In October, an unmanned device “put 130 lives at risk” after nearly hitting an aircraft that was approaching the airport, BALPA said.

Thursday’s closing comes ahead of the busy Christmas season. Gatwick, Britain’s second-busiest airport after Heathrow – Europe’s biggest airport – is expecting a “record-breaking” 2.9 million passengers during the holidays.

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