Gatwick Resumes Flights After Drone Causes Brief Suspension

Ellen Milligan
Gatwick Resumes Flights After Drone Causes Brief Suspension

(Bloomberg) -- London’s Gatwick airport resumed flights after another reported drone incursion caused a brief interruption Friday.

“The sighting was confirmed, so there definitely was a drone in the area,” an airport spokeswoman said by telephone. Military measures “have given us the reassurance we need that it is safe to reopen.”

Service had been halted as a precautionary measure while the incident was investigated, the airport authority said by email. Flights resumed at 6:20 p.m. in London after a suspension of 1 hour, 10 minutes. Eleven flights were diverted during the hiatus.

The latest interruption came as authorities attempted to get operations back to normal after a pair of drones disrupted travel for more than 120,000 people over the course of 36 hours. When Gatwick restarted earlier Friday, authorities offered no guarantees that the mystery drones were gone, though steps had been taken to make the airport safe.

Authorities have identified “persons of interest” who may have been responsible, said Steve Barry, a Sussex Police assistant chief constable, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC anti-drone technologies had been deployed at Gatwick. “This is an unprecedented event. There’s not been anything like this anywhere in the world,” he said.

Pilots Concerned

The British Airline Pilots’ Association said it was “extremely concerned” at the continuing risk of a drone collision and that unauthorized aircraft could fly around Gatwick’s perimeter or obstruct flight paths.

Almost 50 drone sightings had been reported at the airport during the initial incidents from 9:07 p.m. Wednesday to 4:25 p.m. Thursday, Sussex police said, though some reports may have been duplicates.

The airport is Britain’s second busiest and the biggest hub for EasyJet Plc. It is also a focus for long-distance leisure flights by British Airways. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, Thomas Cook and TUI AG are major operators at Gatwick, as well. Ryanair Holdings Plc has a limited presence.

In a bid to ease the backlog of flights, the Department for Transport temporarily lifted a ban on night operations at other U.K. airports. Gatwick has only one runway, the world’s busiest, offering little scope to cram in more flights to alleviate backlogged itineraries.

The drone flights were “highly targeted” and designed to deliver maximum disruption in the days before Christmas, according to Gatwick Chief Executive Officer Stewart Wingate. While clearly intentional, the flights most likely weren’t terror related, police said.

The pair of drones got the better of a multifronted operation by authorities. A daylight search backed by helicopters failed to locate the devices, prompting the Defence Ministry to send in army personnel as night fell Thursday.

Unmanned aerial vehicles and laser pointers are becoming an increasing threat for aircraft, prompting regulators to draft rules against operating the devices near airfields.

Airspace around Wellington, New Zealand, was closed for 30 minutes this year when a craft was spotted flying close to the runway. Grupo Aeromexico SAB last week said it was investigating whether a drone collided with a jetliner as it approached Tijuana, Mexico. The plane sustained damage to its nose but landed safely.

Governments bar drones from paths reserved for airliners, with Britain outlawing flights above 400 feet or within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of an airport boundary. But the millions of small consumer devices that have been purchased globally can’t be tracked on radar. That makes it difficult to enforce the rules.

(Updates with constable’s comment in fifth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Christopher Jasper, Rita Devlin Marier, Alex Morales, Justin Bachman, Kitty Donaldson and Kyunghee Park.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen Milligan in London at emilligan11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at anandk@bloomberg.net, ;Brendan Case at bcase4@bloomberg.net, ;Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net, Tony Robinson

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