Gatwick Airport close to London has been shut down due to a series of drones flying over the runways. Officials say the disturbance is not terror-related but was deliberate and industrial grade drones were used.
Gatwick has been shut down since Wednesday when the drones were first spotted. The airport estimates that over 10,000 passengers on 760 flights were due to fly on Thursday.
Runway closed until further notice
The airport was expected to remain closed at least until 16:00 today but that could be extended. The runway opened briefly on Tuesday but was shut down again almost immediately when drones were spotted again.
14.15: Our runway is still closed because of drone sightings. Flights are cancelled up to at least 16.00 today, while we constantly review the situation. Please do not set out for the airport for your flight without checking with your airline first. We're sorry for the disruption— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) December 20, 2018
Sussex police say the drone's operator is being looked for and that that is the only certain way to shut down the drone.
The risk of stray bullets is too high for the drone to be shot down by police firearms Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said, “If we were to reopen today we will first repatriate passengers who are in the wrong place which could take several days."
Police struggle to find drone operator
More than 20 police joined the search for the dorms operator. Supt Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey said the task was frustrating as they have no way of knowing where the operator is.
"Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,"he said.
If caught the rogue drones could face up to five years in jail. Christmas is a peak time for the airport and the disruptions to family holiday day plans have been massive.
Incoming flights have been directed to other airports in London but also as far away as Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow, Paris, and Amsterdam.
It is estimated there are about 11,000 people stuck inside the airport.
Gatwick spokesperson said the airport had brought in extra staff to assist in the emergency and that the airport was providing food and water to those in need.
Passengers unlikely to receive compensation
The event is deemed an "extraordinary circumstance" by The Civil Aviation Authority which means customers are not entitled to compensation from their airlines.
However, consumer watchdog Which? Has suggested passengers may still be entitled to hotels, food vouchers, and transfers.
Passengers have been updating on the situation on social media. Christopher Lester who was returning from Kiev, Ukraine said that his plane had been diverted to Birmingham but that the passengers were not allowed to disembark.
Flight from Kiev to #Gatwick was due to land last night at 21.45. We landed in Birmingham airport. Now almost 4am, still on the plane, no food or updates from our crew. Not allowed to disembark. Bodies sleeping on every seat and across the floors. ???❤️✈️ #GatwickAirportpic.twitter.com/nBrPquEGFM— Christopher Lister (@Listy_cl) December 20, 2018
At the time of his tweet, they had been waiting on board for 6 hours without food or updates.
It is illegal in the UK to fly a drone within 1 kilometer of an airport. Flying above 120 m is also banned. Incidents involving drones have increased exponentially.
There were no reported incidents in 2013, compared to 100 in 2017.
Interesting Engineering will follow on this story.