Two rogue drones caused chaos and shut down at Gatwick Airport

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Noor Imtiaz
Currently a MS student in Healthcare Biotech at Pakistan’s National University of Science and Technology juggling pure science and creative writing. I’m an avid reader who makes more time for books than Netflix.

Gatwick Airport is the second largest airport in the UK. Recently, drones forced authorities to close the entire airport and ground flights for all of Wednesday night through Thursday afternoon. This has disrupted tens of thousands of passengers travel plans.

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 have jurisdiction over the matter. They have confirmed that the incident does not appear to be terrorism-related. But if the sightings were, indeed, of drones, it appears the incident was deliberately designed to disturb air travel. Police have confirmed that around 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were scheduled to fly on Thursday.

The Sussex Police later called the British army for help in assessing the matter. 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, two drones were spotted flying inside the fence in the vicinity of the airport’s runways. After an all-clear, police decided to briefly re-open the airport at 3 am, but this was quickly followed by another sighting, after which they closed the premises again.

While the police are trying to find the perpetrator, they currently don’t have any leads. They have decided not to shoot down the drones due to the risk stray bullets pose.

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 in the area surrounding the airport. The perpetrator can face up to five years in jail once caught. 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 permission.

The Danger

Drones are crewless aerial vehicles. They are usually small and remote controlled. Most drone users tend to be photographers or hobbyists.

Despite innocent intentions, these small vehicles can do harm. 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, CEO of Quantum Aviation, was interviewed following the Gatwick incident. 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 solution to the problem of unidentified drones causing problems near airports. He suggested using radar, cameras, and radio frequency detectors to locate drones and specify their origins so drone operators can be identified immediately.

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