The Gatwick airport in London was shut down at 9:03 p.m. on Wednesday due to reports of two drones flying over the airfield, the airport said in a statement. Despite a brief reopening in the early morning hours, the airport remained closed throughout the day Thursday.
Airport officials have now announced just after 6 a.m. Friday that the runway was open again and “a limited number of aircraft are scheduled for departure and arrival.”
Sussex police said they are yet to find the drone
The airport, U.K.’s second largest, was closed for about 26 hours straight.
“Gatwick’s runway will remain closed and all flights are cancelled for the rest of the evening because of continued drone sightings in
Sussex Police called the flying of the drones over the airfield “a deliberate act,” but said there was no indication the drones were terror-related.
“We’ve already passed legislation in relation to the use of drones so it is now, as has been made clear, that the activity that we’ve seen is illegal and those who are caught endangering aircraft can face up to five years in prison,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May told The Associated Press. “That’s legislation we’ve already introduced and actually we’re consulting on further aspects of this, including for police powers, but we will continue to work with the Gatwick authorities and police will be working with the Gatwick authorities in order to bring this to a close.”
The airport continued to advise passengers to check on their flights for statuses. All told, officials said about 50 drone sightings were reported.
“We advise everyone flying from Gatwick, or collecting someone from the airport, Thursday 20th December, to check the status of their flight,” the airport wrote.
There were no flights landing or taking off for about six hours — from 9:03 p.m. to 3:01 a.m. — and Gatwick announced it was “working, with the airport community, to catch up on the flight schedule.” That optimism was short-lived, as just 44 minutes later the airport announced another drone had been sighted and the airfield was again closed. It would never reopen.
“We apologise to any affected passengers for this inconvenience but the safety of our passengers and all staff is our number one priority,” the airport said in a statement. “I’ve got officers not only in the terminals and on the airfields looking for the drone and the drone operator, but I’ve got resources from Surrey and Sussex right the way across the outside of Gatwick trying to identify who’s operating this drone,” Sussex Police Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw said. “It’s been going on for 10 hours now and I’m absolutely certain this is a deliberate act to disrupt the airfield.”
Gatwick Airport, located about 30 miles south of London, is the second-busiest airport in the U.K. after London’s Heathrow Airport. It is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe. Thursday was expected to be one of the busiest travel days of the year, as people head home for the Christmas holidays. U.S. airlines expected to carry 45.7 million passengers from Thursday through Jan. 6.