The second busiest airport in the United Kingdom remains shut down early Thursday morning after all flights were halted due to reports of two drones flying above the airfield.
This article reflects an ongoing event and will be updated as more information becomes available.
The high demand for and easy availability of small recreational unmanned aircraft over the past few years has led to an increase in near-misses and dangerous situations involving these consumer drones and commercial airliners. While strong legislation is being debated and put in place worldwide, including a law passed in Britain this past July making it illegal to fly a drone within 1 km of an airport, it is difficult to police these devices. Now, reports of two drones being flown over London Gatwick airport have resulted in major disruptions in the travel plans of thousands of delayed passengers, as all flights have been grounded.
Inbound flights were diverted to nearby airports, including Stansted, Luton, Heathrow, Manchester, and Birmingham. The chaos has rippled from England to other European countries as flights have also been rerouted to Amsterdam, Paris, and Bordeaux.
Runways were reopened at 3:01 AM Thursday morning, approximately six hours after the initial closure, but were shut down again shortly after, as further drone sightings were reported. The airport remains closed at this time. Gatwick Airport has advised travelers to check their flight status for all flights scheduled to arrive or depart on Thursday December 20. Local police and aviation authorities continue to investigate this event.
Update 22:30 GMT: Gatwick Airport's chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said that drone sightings have continued at the airport and that Gatwick Airport remains closed. He said, "...it's (Gatwick Airport) closed for the rest of this evening and our intention is to review on an ongoing basis whether we can open tomorrow." Meanwhile, police are now considering whether to use kinetic action and try to shoot the drone down. A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said earlier, "This is a serious incident, it's causing widespread disruption for passengers. The intention, obviously, is that it should be brought to a clos as soon as possible."
Update 19:46 GMT: Easyjet, the biggest operator at Gatwick Airport, has canceled all flights from Gatwick for the rest of the day as the airport remains shut down. The British Army has become involved, deploying "specialist equipment" to Gatwick. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said, "...the armed forces have a range of unique capabilities and this isn't something we would usually deploy but we are there to assist and do everything we can..." The Gatwick Airport twitter feed has been posting regular updates on the situation including a statement from CEO Stewart Wingate:
Update 14:46 GMT: Gatwick Airport remains shut down as flights scheduled to arrive continue to be rerouted to airports around Europe. Local authorities have said the drone flights appear to be a deliberate attempt to keep the airport closed. They believe the drones are "of an industrial specification." Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw, Gatwick Airport policing commander, said: “We believe this to be a deliberate act to disrupt the airport. However, there are absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related.” Approximately 110,000 passengers and 760 flights have been affected since the drones were first sighted last night.
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