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Gatwick Airport Shut Down by Drones, 100,000+ Delayed, Military Called In


London’s Gatwick Airport, the second-busiest in the UK, has been shut down after two drones were reportedly spotted flying near the airfield. Over 100,000 passengers and over 750 flights may be affected in just 24 hours, and the military has been called in to support local police in handling the chaos that has ensued.

BBC News reports that the “industrial specification” drones were flying in a “deliberate act” of disruption, according to Sussex Police, and that the disruption could last for “several days.”

The airport announced the shutdown late Wednesday after the drones were spotted around 9pm:

After briefly reopening at 3am on Thursday, the airport was shut down again in just 45 minutes after additional drone sightings.

Over 20 law enforcement units scrambled to search for the drone pilot and for a way to disable the drones. Police decided not to take down the drones with guns due to concerns of collateral damage from bullets.

“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” Supt Justin Burtenshaw tells BBC News.

The military has since been called in to aid in the situation:

11,000 travelers were stranded at the airport Wednesday night, others were stuck inside grounded planes for hours, and 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were scheduled to pass through Gatwick on Thursday.

And because this disruption has been an “extraordinary circumstance,” the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says airlines aren’t required to compensate passengers for what has happened.

Industry bodies are condemning the drone pilot and calling for new regulations and countermeasures:

The CAA also issued a warning to the public regarding flying drones in and near airports:

The drone pilot in this Gatwick case reportedly faces up to 5 years in jail if caught and convicted.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May held a press conference and stated that authorities will catch and jail the perpetrator.

Reported incidents between drones and aircraft have increased in recent years. A drone strike was reported at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2016, and Mexican authorities are currently investigating whether a 737 was damaged by a drone strike while landing last week.

(via The Guardian and Fstoppers)

Update on 12/22/18: Police have made 2 arrests in connection with the “criminal drone activity”:

Image credits: Header airport photo by Andre Wadman and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License