Drone near Gatwick airport causes disruption to flights

Passengers inconvenienced as number of flights forced to divert on Sunday

Drone disruption at British airports is becoming a severe problem, with 70 incidents in 2016 and 33 so far in 2017, according to the UK Airprots Board. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Drone disruption at British airports is becoming a severe problem, with 70 incidents in 2016 and 33 so far in 2017, according to the UK Airprots Board. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

 

A drone spotted in the sky near Gatwick airport on Sunday evening prompted the closure of a runway and led to several flights being diverted nearly 130 km away.

Flights were forced to divert away from the West Sussex airport to Stansted and Southend in Essex, and to Bournemouth in Dorset, leaving some passengers stranded far from home.

One passenger, Craig Jenkins, was on an easyJet flight to Gatwick from Naples which was diverted to Stansted mid-flight.

“We were flying across the Channel, then did about four or five circles,” he said. “Then, slowly, we travelled further east. When I could see the HS1 train line, I knew we were in trouble.

“Shortly after that, we got told Gatwick had closed and we needed to land in Stansted.”

On arrival at Stansted, Mr Jenkins said the captain asked passengers to vote on whether to disembark there or fly back to Gatwick.

“I thought it was going to turn into Lord of the Flies at one point,” he said.

“The general consensus was to go back to Gatwick but one person was adamant they were getting off. The captain stepped in and made an executive decision, thank God.”

Marina O’Loughlin, restaurant critic for Guardian Weekend magazine, was flying easyJet to Gatwick from Toulouse when her flight pulled out of its landing approach.

“Just as we were about to land, we suddenly whooshed back up again. The head steward said the captain had told him the diversion was necessary because of a drone.”

Four easyJet flights were diverted during the runway closure, a spokeswoman for the airline said on Sunday evening.

“Once refuelled, easyJet plans to continue three flights on to London Gatwick and is arranging coach transfers on to London Gatwick for passengers on flight EZY8832 from Bodrum [Turkey]that diverted to London Southend,” she said.

“The safety and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is always easyJet’s highest priority.

“While the circumstances are outside of our control, easyJet apologises for any inconvenience caused.”

British Airways was also forced to divert a plane from Valencia to Bournemouth airport, a spokesman said.

A spokesman for Gatwick airport said on Sunday: “Due to reports of a drone observation in the vicinity of the airfield, runway operations at Gatwick were suspended between 6.10pm and 6.19pm and again from 6.36pm to 6.41pm, resulting in a small number of go-arounds and diverts. Operations have resumed and the police continue to investigate.”

Drone disruption at British airports is becoming a severe problem, with 70 incidents in 2016 and 33 so far in 2017, according to the UK Airports Board - a safety body jointly funded by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Defence.

Last month, a Loganair pilot was forced to take evasive action after a drone came within 20 metres of his plane as he prepared to land at Edinburgh airport. The pilot managed to land safely but police warned there could have been “far more serious consequences”.

Guardian News Service