UK police consider shooting down rogue drones after another sighting forces London Gatwick Airport to briefly halt flights again
- Military measures now in place meant it was safe to fly despite a confirmed sighting of a drone on Friday, an airport spokeswoman said
- There have been more than 50 drone sightings at the airport since Wednesday night, and the operators are still on the loose
UK police are considering shooting down rogue drones at London Gatwick Airport after flights were suspended again on Friday because of a fresh sighting, in a third day of Christmas getaway misery that has left tens of thousands of passengers stranded.
Runway operations were halted at 5.10pm after a report of a drone, but were restarted just over an hour later. A spokeswoman said the airport had reopened after operators were reassured that military measures now in place meant it was safe to fly despite a confirmed sighting of a drone.
About 160 of Friday’s 837 scheduled flights were cancelled, but the majority of the 126,000 passengers booked to fly from the airport got away as planned, albeit with slight delays, after flights resumed at 6.20pm.
Drones were first sighted hovering around Britain’s second-busiest air hub at 9pm on Wednesday, shutting down all take-offs and landings and causing chaos for more than 120,000 people.
There have been more than 50 sightings of the device or devices and shooting down the drone is now an option, said Jason Tingley of Sussex Police.
“We will do what we can to take that drone out of the sky and remove that disruption,” he said.
Photos from Gatwick suggested military-grade drone tracking and signal-jamming machines had been brought in.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association said it understood that detection and tracking equipment had been installed around the airport perimeter, but the union remained concerned about the risks. Brian Strutton, the union’s general secretary, said: “It is up to the relevant authorities to decide whether it is safe to reopen Gatwick given that the rogue drone is still around and may be expected to fly again.”
Police are still hunting for the drone operator or operators.
Passengers, many trying to get home for Christmas or to start their holidays, were advised to check the status of their flights before travelling to the airport.
Gatwick’s chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe earlier told BBC radio that the airport was only able to reopen its sole runway due to the “additional mitigating measures” provided by government agencies and the military.
The army was called in on Thursday to offer support, with the defence ministry deploying what was described only as specialist equipment.
Government officials held an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.
There have been more than 50 sightings of the device or devices since 9pm on Wednesday.
Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey said on Thursday: “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield the drone reappears”.
Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said officers were working on the theory there was more than one drone.
The previous last sighting had been at around 10pm on Thursday.
Some 10,000 passengers were affected on Wednesday night, and a further 110,000 who had been due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights Thursday.
Fons Braden, a Portuguese man working and studying in London, saw his flight scrapped on Friday.
“They said the flight was delayed at first. We still stand in the queue, no other information. And then half an hour before our flight was supposed to depart, they said, well, the flight is cancelled’,” he said.
“I just work around the corner in cars,” he said, adding that the easiest solution might be “to drive to Portugal.”
Mike, from London, had his flight cancelled on Friday and will miss his connection to Ghana.
“We’re in limbo. We don’t actually know when we’ll be flying out at all because we haven’t been promised a rescheduled flight, we haven’t been promised any further information, any compensation. Nothing at all.”
Darcis, 32, who was supposed to arrive from Milan on Thursday and had to sleep at the airport, said: “I cannot understand why such a small thing can cause an international airport like Gatwick [to close]. They should be ready for these things. I really don’t understand what we can do.”
The drama dominated Britain’s newspapers on Friday, with speculation that an eco-activist was responsible.
Gatwick, around 50km south of the British capital, is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world’s busiest single runway air hub.
Inbound flights were diverted to other airports, including Paris, while passengers waiting to take off faced gruelling delays.
Under a new British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometre of an airport, or at an altitude of over 400 feet (122 metres).
Violators face up to five years in prison for endangering an aircraft.