London Gatwick airport reopens after drone chaos | Fin24
  • Ferial Haffajee

    Why Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan’s patriotism call to fly SAA flopped.

  • Solly Moeng

    State capture is meant to be over, but we aren't free if its beneficiaries go unpunished.

  • South African Airways

    A business rescue practitioner has been appointed to try and save the struggling flag carrier.


London Gatwick airport reopens after drone chaos

Dec 21 2018 18:12

London's Gatwick Airport reopened on Friday after mysterious drone sightings caused chaos that left tens of thousands of passengers stranded over the past three days.

Police are still hunting for the drone operator or operators, while military resources have been deployed to safeguard Britain's second-busiest airport.

A Gatwick spokesman said that 91 of Friday's 412 scheduled arrivals had been cancelled, while 64 of 371 scheduled departures had also been scrapped.

Passengers, many trying to get home for Christmas or to start their holidays, were advised to check the status of their flights before travelling to the airport.

Gatwick's chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe told BBC radio that police were yet to find the operator of the drones and the airport was only able to reopen its sole runway due to the "additional mitigating measures" provided by government agencies and the military.

The army was called in on Thursday to offer support, with the defence ministry deploying what was described only as specialist equipment.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC that "military capabilities" were being deployed".

"There are a range of measures which are there today which should give passengers confidence that they are safe to fly," he said.

Government officials held an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.

Cat and mouse chase

There have been more than 50 sightings of the device or devices since 21:00 GMT on Wednesday and shooting down the drone is now an option, Jason Tingley of Sussex Police told reporters.

"We will do what we can to take that drone out of the sky and remove that disruption so we can get Gatwick back to normal," he said.

Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey said on Thursday: "Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield the drone reappears".

Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said officers were working on the theory there was more than one drone, although the last sighting was at around 22:00 GMT on Thursday.

Driving to Portugal instead

Some 10 000 passengers were affected on Wednesday night, and a further 110 000 who had been due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights Thursday.

Fons Braden, a Portuguese man working and studying in London, saw his flight scrapped on Friday.

"They said the flight was delayed at first. We still stand in the queue, no other information. And then half an hour before our flight was supposed to depart, they said, well, the flight is cancelled," he told AFP.

"I just work around the corner in cars so I am just considering calling my boss and say: can I lend a car? I am going to drive to Portugal."

Mike, from London, had his flight cancelled on Friday and will miss his connection to Ghana.

"We're in limbo. We don't actually know when we'll be flying out at all because we haven't been promised a rescheduled flight, we haven't been promised any further information, any compensation. Nothing at all."

Darcis, 32, who was supposed to arrive from Milan on Thursday and had to sleep at the airport, said: "I cannot understand why such a small thing can cause an international airport like Gatwick (to close). They should be ready for these things. I really don't understand what we can do."

'Drone wolf'

The drama dominated Britain's newspapers on Friday.

Top-selling tabloid The Sun splashed "The Drone Wolf" across its front-page, speculating that the culprit was an eco-activist.

The Daily Telegraph broadsheet also reported that authorities suspected an environmental protest, according to civil service sources.

Gatwick, around 50km south of the British capital, is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world's busiest single runway air hub.

Inbound flights were diverted to other airports, including Paris, while passengers waiting to take off faced gruelling delays.

Under a new British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometre of an airport, or at an altitude of over 122 metres.

Violators face up to five years in prison for endangering an aircraft.

uk  |  gatwick  |  travel and leisure  |  aviation  |  drones


Company Snapshot

Voting Booth

What do you think about private healthcare in SA?

Previous results · Suggest a vote