'A criminal act, deliberate act' - Gatwick Airport boss refuses to rule out further drone disruption
The runway at Gatwick has reopened this morning
Search continues for operator of drone
The boss of Gatwick Airport has refused to rule out the possibility of future drone disruption once the military leave.
Britain’s Gatwick Airport reopened early on Friday morning following 36 hours closure after a rogue drone saboteur wrought travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of Christmas travelers by playing cat-and-mouse with police snipers and the army.
After the biggest disruption at Gatwick, Britain’s second busiest, since a volcanic ash cloud in 2010, Gatwick said its runway was open and that a limited number of aircraft were scheduled for departure and arrival.
Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said there is currently no commercially available equipment he could put in place to neutralise the threat of further disruption.
Speaking outside the airport this morning, he apologised to passengers and said he hopes flights will be operating normally by Saturday.
"It's a criminal act, deliberate act," he said.
"This is an unprecedented issue. This isn't a Gatwick Airport issue. It's not even a UK issue. It's an international issue...
"What we need to be doing going forward is work with technology providers and with the Government to enhance our ability to address the risk posed by drones to airports," said Mr Woodroofe.
"We have been working with technology providers ourselves for the last 12 months but stood here today, there is no commercially available airport licensed proven technology that I could implement."
Asked if there is anything in place to stop this happening again once the military leave, he said: "My number one priority is going to be the safety of our passengers. And so, if the drone comes and endangers an aircraft then we will suspend runway operations because safety is the number one priority."
Mr Woodroofe said the airport was operating at almost normal runway conditions on Friday, although airlines were still dealing with the fallout from the disruption.
"So what we'll be doing today is recovering their operations so by tomorrow we are back to standard operation and continue to recover the situation for our passengers," he said.
"Last night working with a number of government agencies and the military we were able to put in place a number of additional mitigating actions which gave me the confidence to re-open Gatwick Airport this morning.
"We now have passengers arriving and departing. We are very much hoping to run a schedule today. It's going to be disruptive. Passengers are going to be delayed. And every passenger should check with their airline before they come to the airport.
"We are very much hoping to get 100,000 passengers on their way to destinations and back into Gatwick Airport so we can begin to recover from this 36 hour incident and get those passengers to their destinations in time for Christmas.
“Gatwick’s runway is currently available and a limited number of aircraft are scheduled for departure and arrival,” the airport said.
“Gatwick continues to advise passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before traveling to the airport as departures and arrivals will be subject to delays and cancellations.”
Britain called in the military and police snipers to hunt down the drone and its operator who flew what is thought to be an industrial style drone near the airport every time it tried to reopen.
It is illegal to fly drones within 1 km (0.6 mile) of a British airport boundary, punishable by five years in prison.
With a surge in public enthusiasm for drones, there has been an increase in near-collisions by unmanned aircraft and commercial jets in recent years.
The number of near misses between private drones and aircraft in Britain more than tripled between 2015 and 2017, with 92 incidents recorded last year, according to the UK Airprox Board regulator.
Gatwick, which competes with Europe’s busiest airport Heathrow, west of London, had said Sunday would be its busiest day of the festive period.
Airlines were scrambling to fly people home just days before Christmas after the London airport grounded all flights at 9pm on Wednesday.
Airlines including Aer Lingus and Ryanair have put measures in place to tackle large volumes of passengers on the busiest weekend before Christmas. All Ryanair flights travelling between Dublin and London Gatwick today are being rerouted to London Stansted.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Aer Lingus said it "put contingency plans in place, including adding additional flights and increasing flight capacity in to London Heathrow, to ensure minimum guest disruption".
Some 28 flights in and out of Dublin Airport were believed to have been affected by the disruption yesterday, with two London-bound transatlantic flights also being rerouted to Dublin.
The British army was brought in to secure Gatwick Airport after what police believe was a deliberate attempt to cause disruption.
In a statement yesterday evening, Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said the drone flights which had shut down Gatwick were "highly targeted" and have "been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run-up to Christmas".
Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley said there had been over 50 sightings of a drone. He added: "We don't know what the drone specification is.
"Our working assumption is it's larger than what someone might buy online, we think it may have been adapted and developed."
It is understood that Ireland soccer manager Mick McCarthy was caught up in the chaos.
Asked what prevention measures were in place to stop drones causing havoc at Ireland's main airports, a spokesman for DAA declined to comment on anti-drone precautions. "The safety and security of passengers, staff and other airport users is Dublin Airport's key priority, but for operational reasons we never comment on specific security matters," the spokesman said.
In April 2017, Cork Airport was shut down briefly after a drone was spotted illegally hovering within the 5km area surrounding the terminal.
Fiona O'Neill from Co Down, who works as a teacher in England, spent five hours sitting in a plane on the runway on Wednesday night before she was told she was facing even further delays.
"I was so excited to finish work for Christmas, get up the road and go to the airport," she said.
"I arrived early and said I would treat myself to dinner and everything was great right up until we were supposed to take off.
"Then we just had to find a place and sit down in the airport while the departures lounge itself was closed. Nobody would tell us anything."
All customers expecting to travel this weekend are asked to check with their airlines before flying to the UK over the coming days.
With additional reporting from The Press Association