Saturday 20 July 2019

Gatwick chaos: Passengers told not to come to airport for 'foreseeable future' following 'deliberate' drone disruption

  • Number of Dublin flights facing delays as drones causes Gatwick runway to close
  • Police are in 'ongoing discussions' with the army about assisting with the operation to find drones that have caused chaos
  • 'Airport to remain closed as a result of this criminal activity' - Gatwick chief executive
  • Ryanair flights to operate to and from London Stansted instead
Passengers wait around in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the closure of the airport, in Gatwick, Britain, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Passengers wait around in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the closure of the airport, in Gatwick, Britain, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Passengers wait around in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the closure of the airport, in Gatwick, Britain, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
The arrivals board at Gatwick Airport this morning, showing cancelled, diverted and delayed flights, as the airport remains closed after drones were spotted over the airfield last night and this morning. Photo: Thomas Hornall/PA Wire
FILE PHOTO dated 25/2/2017 of a drone and an aircraft. Gatwick airport remains closed this morning after drones were spotted over the airfield last night and this morning. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Picture taken with permission from the Twitter feed of Luke Mccomiskie showing the scene inside a plane three hours after it landed at Manchester having been diverted from Gatwick Airport which had been closed because of the sighting of drones. Photo: Luke Mccomiskie/PA Wire
FILE PHOTO dated 16/1/2016 of Gatwick airport which remains closed this morning after drones were spotted over the airfield last night and this morning. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Stranded passengers are seen sleeping at Gatwick Airport, Britain, December 20, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Ani Kochiashvili/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
A woman waits in the departures area at Gatwick airport, near London, as the airport remains closed with incoming flights delayed or diverted to other airports, after drones were spotted over the airfield last night and this morning, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. London's Gatwick Airport remained shut during the busy holiday period Thursday while police and airport officials investigate reports that drones were flying in the area of the airfield. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Passengers wait around in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the closure of the airport, in Gatwick, Britain, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Drone operators have deliberately targeted Gatwick Airport, causing chaos for more than 120,000 people just days before Christmas.

Flights were halted at Gatwick at 9pm on Wednesday after two drones were spotted flying near its airfield, triggering the biggest disruption to its operations since a volcanic ash cloud grounded flights in 2010.

Queues of passengers in the check in area at Gatwick Airport when the airport was closed after drones were spotted over the airfield Photo: Thomas Hornall/PA Wire
Queues of passengers in the check in area at Gatwick Airport when the airport was closed after drones were spotted over the airfield Photo: Thomas Hornall/PA Wire

The military has been called in after the perpetrators escaped capture for more than 22 hours.

A spokesperson for the airport told Sky News that passengers "should not come to the airport for the foreseeable future including tomorrow".

No indication has been given about when the UK's second busiest airport can reopen.

The cancellations have impacted on a number of flights to and from Ireland.

Picture taken with permission from the Twitter feed of Luke Mccomiskie showing the scene inside a plane three hours after it landed at Manchester having been diverted from Gatwick Airport which had been closed because of the sighting of drones. Photo: Luke Mccomiskie/PA Wire
Picture taken with permission from the Twitter feed of Luke Mccomiskie showing the scene inside a plane three hours after it landed at Manchester having been diverted from Gatwick Airport which had been closed because of the sighting of drones. Photo: Luke Mccomiskie/PA Wire

Ryanair released a statement this evening confirming all flights scheduled to operate to and from Gatwick on Friday, December 21, will now instead operate to and from London Stansted.

Customers have been notified and are advised to check with their airline before travelling to the airport.

The runway at Gatwick remains closed this evening.

In a statement this evening, Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said the drone flights which have shut down Gatwick Airport are “highly targeted” and have “been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas".

FILE PHOTO dated 16/1/2016 of Gatwick airport which remains closed this morning after drones were spotted over the airfield last night and this morning. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
FILE PHOTO dated 16/1/2016 of Gatwick airport which remains closed this morning after drones were spotted over the airfield last night and this morning. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said those flying the drones were "irresponsible and completely unacceptable" and voiced sympathy for people having their travel plans upset just days before Christmas.

Passengers flying to and from Dublin Airport have been advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling to the airport today.

A spokesperson for DAA told Independent.ie there are 14 departures to Gatwick and 14 arrivals due from Gatwick to Dublin today.

Some five flights that were due to fly to Dublin from Gatwick were cancelled.

Four flights which were due to depart from Dublin were also cancelled.

Two Norwegian Air flights that were due to land in Gatwick from Orlando and LA have been diverted to Dublin.

Ryanair flights from Dublin to Gatwick are being diverted to London Stansted until at least 2pm today, while flights from Gatwick to Dublin are cancelled until 5pm.

There are fears that there will be major knock on effects for other Irish airports throughout the day - Gatwick is a top five route for each of Ireland's main airports.

The airport and Gatwick's biggest airline easyJet told passengers to check before travelling to the airport as several thousand people waited there in chaotic scenes.

"It's really busy. People are sitting everywhere, on the stairs, on the floors," passenger Ani Kochiashvili, who was booked onto a Wednesday evening flight, said.

Police said more than 20 units were searching for the drone operators on Thursday, when the airport had expected to handle around 115,000 passengers.

"At the moment we're still getting sightings of the drones in and around the airfield," Gatwick Policing Airport Commander Justin Burtenshaw told the BBC.

Sussex regional police said public safety was paramount, adding in a statement: "There are no indications to suggest this is terror-related."

Gatwick, which lies 50 km (30 miles) south of London, gave no indication on when it would reopen and described the situation as an "ongoing incident".

There has been an increase in near-collisions by unmanned aircraft and commercial jets, heightening concerns for safety across the aviation industry 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.

"INDUSTRIAL DRONE"

Gatwick Chief Operating Officer Chris Woodroofe warned that the knock-on effects from the airport closure would last for more than 24 hours. He described one of the drones as a heavy industrial model.

"It's definitely not a standard, off-the-shelf type drone. "Given what has happened I definitely believe it is a deliberate act, yes," he said on BBC radio.

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

Under British law it is illegal to fly drones within 1 km (0.62 mile) of an airport boundary. The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Policing airport commander Burtenshaw said the police were exploring other options to try and bring the situation to a close. He said he was confident of tracking down whoever was behind the drones, but it wouldn't be easy.

"It's a painstaking thing with the new drones; the bigger the drones the further the reach of the operator so it's a difficult and challenging thing to locate them."

SAFETY FIRST

Gatwick apologised on Twitter  to affected passengers, adding that safety was its "foremost priority".

Tens of thousands of passengers were affected, with hundreds of thousands of journeys likely to be disrupted in the coming days, the airport said.

Gatwick, which competes with Europe's busiest airport, Heathrow, west of London, had previously said Sunday would be its busiest day of the festive period.

There have been multiple reports of drone sightings since the initial report on Wednesday evening, Gatwick said. The runway briefly appeared to reopen around 0300 GMT before drones were spotted again.

Kochiashvili, who had been due to fly to Tbilisi, Georgia, on Wednesday, said she had spent six hours overnight sitting on a plane which did not take off.

"I'm very annoyed because I'm with two kids, a three-month-old and three-year-old. They require a lot of space and food and changing and all that, and the airport is crazy busy so it's challenging. There's literally zero information being shared," she told Reuters by phone.

Passengers took to Twitter to share their stories.

One waiting at the airport on Thursday said: "At Gatwick Airport, drone chaos, surprisingly good natured, but complete mayhem."

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