WATCH: Gatwick Airport suspends flights after drone sightings

2018-12-20 14:29

One of Britain's busiest airports was forced to suspend all flights after reports of drones flying over the airfield, causing disruption for at least 10 000 people just days before Christmas, it said on Thursday.

Flights into Gatwick Airport, near London, were diverted to other cities while passengers waiting to take off faced long delays before having to stay in hotels overnight.

Two drones were first spotted flying over the airport at around 21:00 (21:00 GMT). The airfield briefly reopened at 03:00 on Thursday, but had to be closed again following further sightings, the latest at 07:00 (07:00 GMT).

"Flights to and from Gatwick Airport remain suspended following reports of drones flying over Gatwick's airfield last night and in the early hours of this morning," a statement issued at 07:30 said.

"We are advising passengers scheduled to fly from Gatwick not to travel to the airport without checking the status of their flight with their airline this morning.

"We apologise for the inconvenience, but the safety of all passengers and staff is our first priority."

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick's chief operating officer, told BBC radio that 20 police units from two local forces were looking for the drone operator.

"That is the way to disable to drone," he said.

"We also have the helicopter up in the air but the police advise us that it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets."

He said it was an "irresponsible" act that caused "very significant disruption for passengers", with 6 000 people forced to divert to other airports late on Wednesday.

Another 2 000 people destined for Gatwick did not leave, and another 2 000 waiting at Gatwick could not fly and were put up in hotels overnight, he said.

Gatwick is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world's busiest single-runway air hub. It serves more than 228 destinations in 74 countries for 45 million passengers a year.

Under British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or airports, or at an altitude of over 122m.

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