The UK’s second-biggest airport has downed flights for security reasons during one of the busiest times of the year after two drones were spotted flying directly over the runway. At time of writing, London Gatwick had suspended all flights into and out of the airport, affecting at least 10,000 people and likely to disrupt many thousands more with disruptions likely for another 24 hours.
The drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), have reportedly been flown over perimeter fencing and into plane flight paths since last night, contravening bylaws that state UAVs must not be flown above 400ft and within one kilometre of an airport. Flights have been diverted and stranded passengers are being provided with accommodation, according to London Gatwick.
Explaining the chaos that has ensued as a result of the “deliberate” and illegal drone flights, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, told the BBC that the first planes were suspended at around 21.00 and was opened for a short time just after 03.00. That soon changed, however, when another drone was seen 45 minutes later and Gatwick’s schedule was again suspended.
Adding to the complexity of stopping the flights, the only way to do that is at source and catch the person or persons responsible red handed, something that police is are currently working on. However, with no specific technology enabling them to pin point them – particularly if UAV flights aren’t taking place – that could prove a near-impossible task. The option of shooting down any drone while in flight has been ruled out by police because of the very obvious risk that stray bullets would pose.
In an official statement, Gatwick Airport 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.” Around 110,000 people were scheduled to either take off or land at London Gatwick on Thursday.
The latest drone security breach adds further weight to the argument from many concerned with unregulated use that drones should more stringently policed. Some of the more expensive ranges of drones are fitted with technology that prevents them from flying into restricted areas, such as airports and army bases, but it is preventative measure that has its flaws as UAVs can have patches installed or have software upgrades applied which overrides it, making them impervious to such restrictions.
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