Tens of thousands of passengers at one of the UK’s busiest airports are experiencing flight disruption after drones were seen over the airfield. Gatwick’s runway remains closed after two of the devices were seen nearby. Flights are unable to take off or land and Gatwick said 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were due to use the airport on Thursday. Police were still hunting for the drone operator after another device was reported just before 07:00 GMT.
A spokesman for Sussex Police said: “There is absolutely nothing to suggest that this is terrorism-related.” Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said police had not wanted to shoot the devices down because of the risk from stray bullets. Those due to travel have been told to check the status of their flight, while Easyjet told its passengers not to go to Gatwick if their flights have been cancelled.
European air traffic management group Eurocontrol said the runway would remain closed until 11:00 . The shutdown started just after 21:00 on Wednesday when two drones were spotted being flown over the airfield. The runway was briefly reopened at about 03:01, the airport said, but forced to close again about 45 minutes later amid “a further sighting of drones”. About 10,000 passengers were affected overnight on Wednesday, with some flights landing in Paris and Amsterdam.
Mr Woodroofe told the reporters two drones had been seen flying “over the perimeter fence and into where the runway operates from”, sparking “very significant disruption”. He added: “The police are looking for the operator and that is the way to disable the drone.” It is illegal to fly a drone within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary. Planes were diverted to other airports including London Heathrow, Luton and Manchester.
Aviation website airlive.net said some services were re-routed as far away as Cardiff, Paris and Amsterdam. Crowds of passengers waited inside Gatwick’s terminal for updates, while others reported being stuck on waiting planes for several hours. Kasia Jaworska told the BBC she had been travelling from Glasgow to Gatwick with her boyfriend when her flight was diverted to Luton.
After spending about two hours on the plane, she said the couple were put on a bus to Gatwick, from where they had been due to fly to Istanbul. Ms Jaworska said she thought it was “strange” that two drones had led to the closure of the airport. You would imagine there would be better security in place and emergency action for something like that,” she added. Christopher Lister, who had been returning from Kiev, posted a picture of people sleeping “on every seat and across the floors” on board his flight.
He said the photo was taken six hours after the plane – which was due to arrive at Gatwick – landed in Birmingham. Luke McComiskie, whose flight ended up in Manchester, described chaotic scenes as people tried to find their way home after more than three hours stuck onboard. The 20-year-old, from Aldershot, told the Press Association: “We got told there would be some arrangements with coaches for us when we get out the terminal. It was just chaos and they had only two coaches and taxis charging people £600 to get to Gatwick.” Eddie Boyes said he and his family had been at the airport for six hours and people were sleeping on the floor.