Drone sightings shut down London airport, leaving holiday travelers stranded
Drone sightings at Gatwick Airport outside London have caused its only runway to shut down indefinitely — leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded for hours during the busiest travel time of the year.
The runway has been closed since a pair of drones were spotted at the airport, the United Kingdom’s second-busiest behind London Heathrow and located 30 miles south of the capital, on Wednesday night.
It reopened briefly around 3 a.m. Thursday but shut 45 minutes later after another sighting.
“I cannot tell you what time we will reopen,” said Chris Woodroofe, the airport’s chief operating officer. He said one drone has continued to buzz the area and that most of the 110,000 passengers due to pass through Gatwick on Thursday would experience travel disruptions.
In updates on Twitter, Gatwick urged travelers to avoid the airport altogether.
“All flights remain suspended from Gatwick today, due to ongoing drone activity around the airfield,” said the post just before noon. “There is significant disruption, as a result of what appears to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights.”
“We are extremely disappointed that passengers are being affected, especially at this time of year,” a subsequent tweet said. “Our advice continues to be not to travel to the airport and to check with your airline on the status of your flight.”
The airport was making several concessions for affected flyers, including allowing those flying into Gatwick to use Luton Airport instead and waiving administrative fees for those needing a refund.
Police confirmed that the drones were a “deliberate act to disrupt the airport” but said there were “absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror related.”
A police helicopter was hovering near the airfield as officers hunted for the drone operators.
“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,” Woodroofe said.
Gatwick sees 43 million passengers a year.
Travelers moaned about their Gatwick-bound flights instead landing at Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities.
Luke McComiskie landed in Manchester — more than 220 miles from Gatwick — and called the situation “just chaos, and they had only two coaches [buses] and taxis charging people 600 pounds [$760] to get to Gatwick.”
Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, camped out at Gatwick overnight after her flight to Kiev was canceled.
She said the conditions were less than ideal.
“I haven’t slept since yesterday morning. We are very tired. It’s freezing, we are cold, having to wear all of these coats for extra blankets,” she said. “There were pregnant women, one of them was sleeping on the floor. There were people with small babies in here overnight. We saw disabled people on chairs. There were young children sleeping on the floor.”
Flying a drone close to an airport in Britain carries a maximum penalty of five years behind bars.
With Post wires