London’s Gatwick Airport Reopens After Drone Saboteur Sows Chaos

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
December 21, 2018US News

LONDON—London’s Gatwick Airport reopened on Dec. 21, after a saboteur wrought 36 hours of travel chaos for over a hundred thousand Christmas travelers by using a drone to play cat-and-mouse with police snipers and the army.

After the biggest disruption at Gatwick, Britain’s second busiest airport, since a volcanic ash cloud in 2010, Gatwick said 700 planes were due to take off on Friday, although there would still be delays and cancellations.

Britain deployed unidentified military technology to guard the airport against what Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said were thought to be several drones.

“What’s happening on the ground is a mix of measures taken to give confidence that aircraft can be safe… Some of those are military capabilities,” Grayling told BBC television.

Grayling said there was not yet “a straightforward commercial, off-the-shelf solution that automatically solves all problems.”

There was mystery over the motivation of the drone operator, or operators, and police said there was nothing to suggest the crippling of one of Europe’s busiest airports was a terrorist attack.

Gatwick’s drone nightmare is thought to be the most disruptive yet at a major airport and indicates a new vulnerability that will be scrutinized by security forces and airport operators across the world.

The army and police snipers were called in to hunt down the drones, thought to be industrial style craft, which flew near the airport every time it tried to reopen on Thursday.

Police helicopter flies over Gatwick
A Police helicopter flies over Gatwick Airport as they search for the Drone operator causing closure of the airport in London, England, on Dec. 20, 2018. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)


Gatwick’s chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said the perpetrator had not yet been found.

Flights were halted at 2103 GMT on Wednesday after two drones were spotted near the airfield. The disruption affected at least 120,000 people.

After a boom in drone sales, unmanned aerial vehicles have become a growing menace at airports across the world.

In Britain, the number of near misses between private drones and aircraft more than tripled between 2015 and 2017, with 92 incidents recorded last year.

Flying drones within 1 km (0.6 mile) of a British airport boundary is punishable by five years in prison.

The drone sightings caused misery for tens of thousands of travelers who were stranded at Gatwick, many sleeping on the floor as they searched for alternative routes to holidays and Christmas family gatherings.

Passengers at Gatwick South
Passengers wait for announcements at Gatwick South Terminal in London, England on Dec. 20, 2018. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“There’s no evidence that it is terror-related in the conventional sense,” Grayling said. “But it’s clearly a kind of disruptive activity that we’ve not seen before. This kind of incident is unprecedented anywhere in the world.”

He said it was uncertain how many drones were involved but it appeared to be more than one.

“It’s thought to be a small number of drones in the plural,” Grayling said. “It certainly wasn’t a lot, it was the same small number of drones seen many times.”

It was not immediately clear what the financial impact would be on the main airlines operating from Gatwick including easyJet, British Airways and Norwegian.

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said it considered the event to be an “extraordinary circumstance” meaning airlines are not obliged to pay compensation to affected passengers.

Airlines will have to refund customers who no longer wish to travel however and try to reschedule flights to get passengers to their destinations.

By Guy Faulconbridge and Alistair Smout

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