Hundreds of Irish among 100,000 affected by Gatwick closure over drone

Airport chief calls for aviation industry and government to address challenge of drones

Flights have been suspended at Britain's second largest airport after several sightings of drones flying near the airfield. Video credit: Andrada Tudor

 

Hundreds of Irish passengers were among more than 100,000 affected after operators of a drone targeted London’s Gatwick Airport in a “deliberate act”, causing the runway to close just days before Christmas.

The military was called in after the perpetrators avoided capture since the incident began on Wednesday night.

The flying of an “industrial” drone close to the airport was a “deliberate act” but there were “no indications to suggest this is terror related”, local police said.

Disruption looked set to continue today as Eurocontrol, the European organisation for the safety of air navigation, extended the earliest time the runway would open to 6am and the airport was advising passengers not to travel there for the moment.

Aer Lingus said it had cancelled 14 flights in and out of Gatwick. It planned to operate as scheduled today but would “continue to monitor the situation closely”, a spokeswoman said.

Ryanair said all of its flights scheduled to operate in and out of London Gatwick today would instead operate to/from London Stansted.

Calls for action

The incident led to calls for more action to tackle illegal drone use. The runway has been closed almost constantly since two drones were spotted being flown inside the airport. Flights were suspended at about 9pm on Wednesday.

Gatwick Airport announced the runway had reopened at about 3am yesterday, but 45 minutes later it was shut again after a further sighting of drones. There was another sighting at about midday.

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick Airport’s chief operating officer, said the drones could not be shot down because of the risk posed by stray bullets.

The British army was deployed yesterday evening to help find the operators of drones

. Police, with the assistance of the military, are hunting for the devices and those controlling them.

The airport’s chief executive last night called for the aviation industry and the UK government to urgently address the challenge posed by drones.

Stewart Wingate said it “cannot be right” that a major international airport could be targeted in this way.

“This is a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run-up to Christmas.

“Although not for today, these events obviously highlight a wider strategic challenge for aviation in this country which we need to address together with speed.

“This is obviously a relatively new technology and we need to think through together the right solutions to make sure it cannot happen again.”

Custodial sentence

Britain’s transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said the people who were involved “should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for the damage they have done”.

He said: “We are still receiving drone sightings in and around the Gatwick airfield. “Therefore, until we are confident that the issue has been resolved it would clearly not be in the interests of passengers to do so as we could be jeopardising their safety.”

Many passengers at Gatwick Airport were anticipating spending the night in the terminal after hotels in the area become fully booked.

Irish man Adam Connon (30) was due to fly into Dublin on Wednesday evening but was forced to stay in a hotel for the night and arrange a flight from London City Airport yesterday afternoon.

Mr Connon, who travels to London weekly for work, said passengers on his 9.15pm flight “were left in complete limbo” by Aer Lingus. – Additional reporting: PA