gatwick airport

Gatwick flights cancelled after two drones cause runway closure

Image credit: reuters

Gatwick airport’s main runway has been closed after two drones were found flying nearby. The incident will cause at least another 24 hours of disruption to thousands of passengers stranded at the airport.

Flights in and out of the airport were suspended at about 9pm on Wednesday after two of the devices were seen near the West Sussex airfield.

Gatwick announced the runway had reopened at about 3am on Thursday, but 45 minutes later it was shut again after a further sighting of drones.

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, said drones had been spotted over the airport as late as 7am on Thursday.

He blasted the “irresponsible” act, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 10,000 people had been affected by the closure, including 2,000 whose flights had been unable to take off.

He said two drones had been seen flying “over the perimeter fence and into where the runway operates from”.

Woodroofe added that 20 police units from two forces were hunting for the pilot, saying: “The police are looking for the operator and that is the 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.”

Passengers faced severe disruption as some flights were unable to leave the tarmac, while others were diverted to other airports.

Some people reported being left stuck on planes for several hours while they waited to find out what was going on.

Gatwick advised anyone flying from the airport, or collecting someone, to check the status of their flight.

A spokeswoman added that airlines were working to provide hotel accommodation or transport for those whose flights were diverted.

Aviation website airlive.net said inbound flights were diverted to a range of UK airports as well as Amsterdam and Paris.

Gatwick, which lies 50 km (30 miles) south of London and competes with Europe's busiest airport, Heathrow, west of London, had previously said Sunday would be its busiest day of the festive period.

An increase in near collisions by unmanned aircraft and commercial jets has fuelled safety concerns in the aviation industry in recent years.

The number of near misses between private drones and aircraft in the UK more than tripled between 2015 and 2017, with 92 incidents recorded last year, according to the UK Airprox Board.

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