Gatwick Airport’s runway remains closed this morning after it was shut at 9pm on Wednesday 19 December, following reports of drones close to the airfield.
The incident has been described as a “coordinated attack” on Britain’s second-busiest airport as thousands of passengers have been left in limbo and flights have been diverted to other regional hubs throughout the UK.
A statement on Gatwick’s website posted this morning read: “All arriving and departing flights are currently suspended while we investigate reports of drones flying close to our airfield.
“Please do not travel to Gatwick without checking the status of your flight with your airline, s there are significant cancellations and delays today.
We apologise to all of our passengers who are impacted today, but the safety of our passengers and all our staff is our priority.”
Flights to and from the airport were initially suspended on Wednesday evening, before the runway was reopened at around 3am on Thursday for just 45 minutes before being closed again due to further drone sightings.
Chris Woodroofe, chief operating officer at Gatwick Airport has warned it could take days to recover services and those responsible could face five years in prison.
The incident occurred just as airports around the world are preparing themselves for one of the busiest weekends of the year, with 110,000 passengers on 760 flights due to use Gatwick on Thursday.
While a spokesperson for Sussex Police said: “There is absolutely nothing to suggest that this is terrorism-related,” police remain on the hunt for the pilot so that they can disable the drone.
Woodroofe said police had not wanted to shoot the devices down because of the risk from stray bullets. And the UK Civil Aviation Authority has emphasised: “It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment.”
Some of the diverted flights have had to land in Paris and Amsterdam, while others have landed at alternative airports around the UK.
Southampton Airport tweeted: “Our team are on their way to pick up any passengers affected at Gatwick Airport that rebooked their flights from Southampton.”
Meanwhile one passenger tweeted that “crew have said all airports in the South are full to capacity. No idea how we’re going to get home – no info on onward travel!”
Karen Dee, CEO of the Airport Operators Association praised the UK’s airport community for working together to accommodate diverted aircraft and passengers: “At moments like this, we work together as an industry to put the passengers’ safety first. Airports across the UK are supporting Gatwick by taking diverted aircraft and helping passengers who were due to fly to Gatwick today.”
She also underlined that: “Drones can cause major disruption to passengers, who were looking to forward to well-deserved Christmas breaks, as well as major financial damage to the UK economy. That is why flying a drone near an airfield or endangering aircraft with a drone is a criminal offence with penalties of up to five years in jail.”