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Rogue drones close second-biggest airport in Britain

December 21, 2018 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

Drones hovering over a runway last night closed London Gatwick Airport, forcing authorities to suspend all flights and causing major travel disruption in the run-up to the busiest period the airport faces all year.

Gatwick is the largest airport in Britain after London Heathrow. It’s the eighth-biggest airport in Europe. That two drones costing perhaps a few hundred dollars can bring flights to a halt will be playing heavily on the minds of many people in the aviation industry.

As day dawned in Britain, Gatwick issued a statement saying that it had no re-opening time. It advised passengers due to travel today to check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

It’s only a week since a B737-800 jet operating a scheduled flight collided head-on with a drone in Mexico (smashing in the aircraft’s nose) and a plane’s very near miss with a drone over London was reported. See: Plane hits drone while landing, another has near miss

In the Gatwick incident yesterday, Flightradar24 showed more than 20 flights diverted to airports across the UK and Europe, including Manchester, Liverpool, Paris, Birmingham and Amsterdam. Over 1000,000 travellers have been inconvenienced and the flow-on effects will take days to clear, perhaps running into Christmas.

Airspace around London Gatwick was empty in the early hours as police and airport authorities searched frantically for the operators of the nocturnal drones. The operators may not be nearby; it’s technically possible for them to be half a kilometre away or further.

Crowds of passengers waited inside Gatwick’s terminal for updates, the BBC reported, while others were stuck for hours on waiting planes.

“Been stuck on the tarmac for over an hour after landing at Luton instead of @Gatwick_Airport – crew have said all airports in the South are full to capacity,” Amilia Rachel tweeted .

“No idea how we’re going to get home – no info on onward travel!”

A passenger who had been returning from Kiev posted a picture of people sleeping “on every seat and across the floors” aboard his flight.

He said the photo was taken six hours after the plane was due to arrive at Gatwick.

“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,” he tweeted.

Gatwick Airport said airlines were “working to provide affected passengers with hotel accommodation” or provide alternative travel options.

According to its website, London Gatwick Airport is expecting a record-breaking number of passengers during this year’s Christmas holiday period.

It predicts 2.9 million people will pass through its gates during the northern winter holiday break, with 73,000 of those due to depart this Sunday.

Travellers and flight crews are hoping the drones stay well clear.

Written by Peter Needham

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