- Gatwick Airport, the second-biggest airport in the UK, has been forced to close for more than 24 hours due to someone flying drones over the runway.
- More than 65,000 people are affected by the disruption, and cancellations continue to rack up.
- People were put up in hotels overnight while some travellers reported being sleeping on grounded planes.
- Police are hunting for the operator, who they say is doing this deliberately.
- Disrupting an airport with a drone is a crime which carries a five-year prison sentence.
A major British airport has been forced to close for more than 24 hours – disrupting the journeys of more than 65,000 people – because someone is flying drones over the runway.
Staff at Gatwick Airport, near London, spotted two drones over the runway at 9 p.m. on Wednesday night, and closed it.
The closure prompted a massive police response, with at least 20 separate units dispatched to scour the land around Gatwick’s airfield and find the drone operator. So far they have been unsuccessful.
Euro Control, the European aviation agency, said that the airport will remain closed until at least 10 p.m. on Thursday – more than 24 hours after it originally shut down. Gatwick airport has not said when the airport will reopen.
Chris Woodroffe, the airport’s chief operating officer, told the BBC on Thursday that drones were still in the area. No planes can take off or land while the airport is closed.
He said that the “vast majority” of the 110,000 passengers scheduled to travel through the airport on Thursday would be affected by delays or cancellations. At the most conservative estimate, this means 55,000 people.
10,000 people were also affected on Wednesday night, he said.
At least 760 flights were impacted as a result, an airport spokesperson told Sky News.
The armed forces have been deployed to the airport, Defence Secretary Gavin William told Sky News. He said that they would assist the 20 police units working in the area, but could not give details about what they would be doing.
Gatwick is the UK’s second-largest airport, with 56 airlines operating regularly and an estimated 45 million passengers a year. The airport said that it is expecting 2.9 million passengers to travel through the airport over the festive period.
This video visualisation shows the disruption caused to flights when a drone was spotted near Gatwick’s runway in 2017, forcing a similar closure:
Woodroffe apologised to passengers on “Today,” and condemned the “irresponsible” act. Police say it is a “deliberate act” but that there are no indications that the action is terror-related.
#GatwickDrones | We are carrying out a joint search w/ @Gatwick_Airport for the operators of #drones sighted at #Gatwick. Public safety is paramount and we will take all available actions to disrupt this deliberate act. There are no indications to suggest this is terror related. pic.twitter.com/J36d0Xzo2G
— Sussex Police (@sussex_police) December 20, 2018
Flying a drone less than one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the protected space around an airport is illegal in the UK and can result in a five-year prison sentence.
Gatwick Airport is warning passengers not to travel to the airport before checking the status of their flight with their airline. Woodroffe said that the airport was working with airlines to build a schedule for redirected flights and to inform passengers.
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