Operations at Gatwick Airport (LGW), which is located about 30 miles south of London, have been suspended since Wednesday evening following repeated sightings of drones operating over the airfield. According to airport authorities, two drones were first sighted over the airport at 9:03 p.m. local time. The airport briefly resumed operations at 3:01 a.m. but closed the runways at approximately 3:45 a.m. after the drones were sighted in the airport vicinity again. As of Thursday night, there was no indication of when normal operations would resume “due to ongoing drone activity around the airfield.”
Incoming flights were diverted to airports including London Heathrow, Paris and Amsterdam. It has been reported that roughly 10,000 passengers were affected by the airport closure on Wednesday with more than 110,000 people and 760 flights scheduled to arrive or depart from LGW on Thursday. Although an investigation is underway, the drone operators have not yet been identified. According to Sussex police, the “devices used are of an industrial specification.” Military resources were deployed to assist police and airport personnel on Thursday.
“This is a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas,” said Gatwick Airport CEO Stewart Wingate. “We are working hard with both the police and Government agencies as we seek to resolve this situation. We know that everyone, including Government, appreciates the severity of the situation and are very grateful for the active role that the police are taking to try and resolve this. […] Although not for today, these events obviously highlight a wider strategic challenge for aviation in this country which we need to address together with speed – the aviation industry, Government and all the other relevant authorities.”
U.K. regulations prohibit the operation of drones within 1 km (0.62 miles) of an airport, along with requiring that the drone be in sight of the operator at all times, remain below 122 meters (400 feet) AGL and not fly within 50 meters (164 feet) of people, vehicles or buildings.