Friday , January 22 2021

Gatwick runway reopen after drone chaos, Easyjet says



A queue of passengers next to a Christmas treeImage copyright
PA

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Earlier this week, Gatwick predicted a "record-breaking" festive period

Gatwick's runway has reopened after a drone caused the airport to shut down for more than one day, Easyjet has said.

The budget airline said it will resume services from Gatwick on Friday, but expected departures and landings will be restricted at first.

Thousands of passengers are stranded at the airport as police continue their search for the operator of the drone.

Flights were brought to a standstill after a drone was seen on the airfield on Wednesday.

Police have so far failed to locate the device or its pilot

Gatwick's bosses have been urged to travel to the airport before the airport at the airport

They are working in the "a limited number of flights" over the coming hours.

Speaking on Thursday, Gatwick's chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said 120,000 people had been flying out since the runway closed.

The staff was working on contingency plans in the event of being grounded again, he said.

Passengers have complained of "freezing" in the temperature in the south terminal, while others found themselves inbound flights then either cancelled or diverted.

Dozens of passengers contacted the BBC to say the uncertainty had led them to their festive travel plans or spend extra money on new flights and hotel stays.

Budget airline Ryanair said it was switching all of its Gatwick flights to operate and out of Stansted airport on Friday.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the government was doing "everything we can make arrangements with other airports".

Among these measures was the lifting of night-flight restrictions so that "more planes can get in and out of the country", he said.

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PA

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Passengers have been urged to check their flight

What happened?

  • Gatwick's runway closed just after 21:00 GMT on Wednesday when two drones were spotted flying over the perimeter fence and in the airfield
  • It was briefly reopened at 03:01 on Thursday but after closed again about 45 minutes later due to further sightings
  • Outbound flights were grounded, while inbound planes were redirected to other airports
  • About 10,000 passengers were affected overnight on Wednesday
  • On Thursday, police said the drone flight was "a deliberate act to disrupt the airport"
  • More than 20 police units from two forces joined the search for the perpetrator, who could face up to five years in jail
  • The military, with "a range of unique capabilities", was deployed to police operation
  • By Thursday night, 120,000 people had had flights canceled and police said there was more than 50 sightings of the drone since the runway was first closed

The search for the drone

Image copyright
Peter Macdiarmid / LNP

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Armed police were seen at the airfield

Sussex Police has been locked in a game of cat and mouse with the drone since the airport shutdown began.

Despite dozens of sightings, the device, which detects the "adapted and developed" to cause deliberate disruption, has not found.

Det Ch Supt Jason Tingley said police were re-evaluating plans for the robbers.

The measure was initially dismissed by the risk posed by "stray bullets", but became a "tactical option" again after other methods failed, the detective said.

Officers were also following lines of inquiry in "particular groups" and a "number of persons of interest".

"We will do what we can not take," he said.

Supt Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey, said finding the drone's operator was "a difficult and challenging" prospect.

"Every time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to the airfield, the drone reappears," he said.

As a result of an appeal for information, Sussex Police said it was inundated with calls, but urged people with information on "focussed on identification or drone operator of location".

What has happened to passengers?

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PA

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Passengers have faced long waits inside the airport's terminal

Travelers have found themselves in the Gatwick

Thousands had been left stranded for hours inside the airport's terminal building, resorting to sleeping on floors and benches.

Some who spoke to the BBC included a couple hoping to honeymoon in New York and a seven-year-old who had been flying to Lapland.

Others found out

Earlier this week, Gatwick predicted a "record-breaking" festive period, with tens of thousands of passengers expected most days.

Airport chief Mr Woodroofe denied the comment on the possibility of those compensation

The Civil Aviation Authority said it considered the event as an "extraordinary circumstance", and therefore the airlines were not obligated to pay any passengers.

Alex Neill, from consumer rights group Who ?, said people "may still be entitled to meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation and transfers".

Airports and drones: The law

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Media caption"With most drones the batteries will last for only 20 minutes"

It is illegal to fly a drone within 1km of an airport or airfield, and flying above 400ft (120m) – which increases the risk of a collision with a manned aircraft – also prohibited.

Endangered the safety of an aircraft is a criminal offense which can carry a prison sentence of five years.

The number of aircraft incidents involving drones have grown dramatically in the past few years, as the popularity of devices has increased.

In 2013 there were zero incidents, compared to almost 100 last year.

Mr Grayling said the events at Gatwick are "not something that's not experienced in this country before", even though drones have a problem elsewhere in the world.

The government was now looking into "go further" with drone-control, he said, including considering age-limits for users

He added: "Anyone who tries to do the same [as at Gatwick] again, should we go to jail for a long time. "

The UK AirProx Board assesses events involving drones and keeps a log of all reports.

In one incident last year, for example, a pilot flying over Manchester is a "football-sized" dragon passing away.

In another, a plane leaving Glasgow narrowly missed a drone. The pilot in that case said the crew only had three seconds of warning and there was "no time to take avoiding action".

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