London Gatwick Airport flights deliberately grounded by drones | Safety content from ATWOnline

[UPDATED] Flights to and from London Gatwick Airport in the UK are being deliberately disrupted by unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones, operating in the vicinity.

Sussex Police, who are leading the hunt for the drone operators, described the activity as a “deliberate act,” but there were no indications to suggest it was terrorism-related.

The activity began at just after 2100 local time on Dec. 19 and has continued through the night, causing dozens of flight cancellations and stranding thousands of passengers.

During the night, the airport reopened at 0300 only to close again when the UAV was spotted again 45 min. later. Drone sightings have continued throughout the day on Dec. 20, and the airport remains closed to flights until 0400 at the earliest.

Gatwick airport staff reported multiple drones operating over the airfield, resulting in a halt to operations, and videos published online appear to show lights hovering in the air over the airfield, even flying in wet weather.

Sussex Police say they believe the devices being used are of an “industrial specification.”

Airport COO Chris Woodroofe said the drones had repeatedly “disappeared and reappeared,” over the airport.

“Gatwick Airport’s runway remains closed and all flights are currently suspended following reports of drones flying over Gatwick’s airfield last night and this morning. There is significant disruption at Gatwick today as a result of what appears to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights,” Gatwick said in a statement released at 1109 local time.

Attempts to track down the operators have so far failed. Some 20 police teams were involved in the hunt to track down the operator, and a police helicopter has also been bought in to support the search.

Police say they are unable to shoot the drone down, because of concerns about where stray bullets may land.

The run-up to Christmas is one of the busiest periods for the airport, with 110,000 passengers planned to take flights Dec 20.

Although drone use has interrupted UK airport operations on several occasions, this appears to be the first use of the systems to actively disrupt operations over a sustained period.

“These drones are absolutely being operated illegally,” UK aviation minister Elizabeth Sugg said, adding the operators could face up to five years in prison under current UK rules.

“These drone sightings at Gatwick are further evidence that tougher laws and enforcement are required to keep drones clear of manned flights,” British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) head of safety Rob Hunter said.

He called on the government to introduce a registration process for drones sooner rather than later, so people flouting the law can be caught and prosecuted.

“At the same time, BALPA is also calling for the government to consider toughening the law to create a larger no-fly zone around airports,” he said.


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