Gatwick Airport reopens after another drone sighting grounds flights and throws Christmas travel plans into chaos
Flights at Britain’s Gatwick Airport have resumed after yet another suspension, following unconfirmed reports of a new drone sighting.
- Flights at Gatwick Airport were suspended again overnight after another drone was spotted
- Incoming planes had to circle Gatwick because they could not land, while outgoing planes were kept grounded
- The airport has now reopened, with most the recent suspension of flights purely precautionary
In a new nightmare for holiday travellers, flights were again suspended at Gatwick after reports that another drone had been spotted over the airport late Friday afternoon (local time), the airport and British police said.
The new drone was reportedly seen around 5:10pm GMT (4:10am AEDT) at Britain’s second-busiest airport, which operates 45 kilometres south of London.
Incoming planes circled over Gatwick because they could not land and outgoing planes were kept on the tarmac while the drone report was investigated.
Gatwick Airport later confirmed the runway had been reopened. A spokeswoman said the brief second shutdown was precautionary, and new measures had been put in place to ensure safety of travellers.
Flights have resumed at the reopened Gatwick Airport following a cautionary closure. (AP: Kirsty Wigglesworth)
The new suspected drone sighting came after British police and transport officials said extra measures had been put in place to prevent drones from intruding on the airport.
Gatwick had only just reopened about 11 hours earlier after having been shut down all day on Thursday and part of Wednesday night (local time) when authorities said drones repeatedly violated the airport perimeter, threatening the safely of incoming and outgoing planes.
The motive for the drone invasion was not clear but British police said there were no indications it was “terror related”.
Stranded passengers have described freezing conditions while sleeping on the floor and chairs. (Reuters: Toby Melville)
The Thursday shutdown at Gatwick threw tens of thousands of passengers into massive travel chaos, since about 110,000 people had been scheduled to pass through the airport that day, one of the busiest travel days of the year. The figure for passengers expected for Friday was even higher.
Gatwick serves more than 43 million passengers a year.
The hundreds of travellers stuck overnight at Gatwick by Thursday’s closure described freezing conditions as they slept on benches or the airport floor. Many complained they were not being kept informed about re-routed flights.
Around 145 of the 837 flights at Gatwick on Friday had already been cancelled before the latest reported drone sighting, the airport said. In the afternoon, it strongly warned passengers to “check the status of your flight with your airline before departing for the airport”.
The prospect of a deadly collision between what British police described as industrial-grade drones and a passenger plane led authorities to stop all flights in and out of Gatwick on Wednesday evening.
The British military joined police and aviation authorities in searching for the culprit or culprits behind the drone intrusion, which police said was designed to cause maximum disruption over the holiday period.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said there had been about 40 sightings of “a small number of drones” while the airport was shut down. He told the BBC that the drone disruption at Gatwick was “unprecedented anywhere in the world”.
Mr Grayling said additional “military capabilities” and a range of security measures had been put in place overnight but would not elaborate. He said the airport was considered safe for flights on Friday even though the drone operator had not been apprehended.
Some British officials said shooting down a drone remained a “tactical option” but there were concerns that could inadvertently hurt people on the ground.
“Shooting the drone out of the sky is probably one of the least effective options [available]”, said Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry of Sussex Police.
He said police believe there was more than one drone operating around Gatwick in the last two days and that it was possible the drones were being operated from fairly far away.