Two rogue drones caused chaos and shutdown at Gatwick Airport

Gatwick Airport, Control tower with aircraft in flight in background, DP, 19 August 2004, (CGA857)
Gatwick Airport, Control tower
(Last Updated On: December 21, 2018)

Gatwick Airport is the second largest airport in the UK. Recently, drones forced authorities to close the entire airport and ground flights. This inaction continued for all of Wednesday night through to Thursday afternoon. As the airport is crewless, closing it has disrupted tens of thousands of passengers. According to official reports, two drones flew over the airfield within twelve hours. Although initial official reports suggested the disruption would last for several days, the situation seems under control now.

Sussex Police are the main law enforcement agency to respond to the crime. They have confirmed that the incident was not related to terrorist motives. It was, however, an incident of deliberately enacted to cause a disturbance. Also, police have confirmed that around 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were to fly on Thursday. The incident has, therefore, created difficulties for all of these people.

On the scene, the Sussex Police even called the British army for help. Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The armed forces have a range of unique capabilities and this isn’t something we would usually deploy but we are there to assist and do everything we can so that they are in a position to open the airport at the earliest opportunity.”

How It Happened

At around 9 pm GMT, officials spotted two drones flying inside the fence and directly near the area to operate runways. By 3 am, Police had decided to briefly re-open the airport, but after another sighting, they closed the premises. The police started an operation to catch the perpetrator. Since catching the operator is how they hope to shut down the drone, the search operation is ongoing. Police are also staying clear of shooting down the drones over the risk of stray bullets doing more harm.

Chris Woodroofe is the chief operating officer at Gatwick. He said:

“The police are looking for the operator and that is the way to disable the drone. If we were to reopen today we will first repatriate passengers who are in the wrong place which could take several days.”

Sussex Police have started a search operation of the area surrounding the airport. The perpetrator can face up to five years in jail once they catch them. Currently, official reports suggest that more than 20 police units are searching for the culprit. By current UK law, it is illegal to fly within 1 km of an airport without clear permission.

The Danger

Drones are crewless aerial vehicles. They are usually small and remote controlled. People who put today’s drones to use are generally photographers or hobbyists. In these days, drones are increasingly becoming an easily accessible gadget. Other than these uses, industries including construction sites also use drones now.

The panic that ensued after spotting drones near the runway of an airport did not come without reason. Apparently, the incident of a drone hitting a plane happened in October 2017. A drone collided with a wing on a commercial airplane in Canada. The plane sustained damage but was able to land safely.

Martin Lanni is chief executive of airspace security company Quantum Aviation. He said:

“A drone looks quite fragile but the battery is hefty and if you compare a drone to a bird, then it could be potentially more dangerous if it goes through the engine or hits the fuselage.”

Quantum Aviation has suggested a long-term solution to the problem. This includes using radars, cameras, and radio frequency detectors. This can locate drones and also specify where the drone is coming from which could become a game changer.

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