Drones! People can’t stop flying ‘em, whether they’re harmless hobbyists, police looking to expand their surveillance powers, criminals looking to evade them, corporate profiteers, musicians, or morons who violate airspace restrictions or interfere with emergency operations out of ignorance, recklessness, or outright malice.
It’s that last category that is presumably the cause of a major disruption at Gatwick, according to Reuters, which reported that sightings of two drones flying over airways at the UK’s second-busiest airport grounded all flights for hours beginning late Wednesday evening:
Flights at London’s Gatwick airport remained suspended early on Thursday, five hours after the UK’S second-busiest airport halted them to investigate reports of two drones flying over its airfield, inconveniencing passengers days before the Christmas holiday period.
Planes were unable to depart, while a number of flights scheduled to land were diverted to other airports, Gatwick said in a statement.
Passengers complained on Twitter that their flights had landed at London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. Other flights were sent to France and the Netherlands.
Flights eventually resumed at around 3:00 a.m. according to the Guardian, but the airport wrote on Twitter nearly two hours that further sightings of the drones had forced them to again close the runway.
“We will update when we have suitable reassurance that it is appropriate to re-open the runway,” the official Gatwick Airport LGW account wrote. “...We apologise to any affected passengers for this inconvenience but the safety of our passengers and all staff is our foremost priority.”
— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) December 20, 2018
Been stuck on the tarmac for over an hour after landing at Luton instead of @Gatwick_Airport - crew have said all airports in the South are full to capacity. No idea how we're going to get home - no info on onward travel! pic.twitter.com/PYqfkw2fhN
— Amilia Rachel (@millie15395) December 20, 2018
There is definitely some wanker scrolling through twitter looking at all the tweets about #Gatwick , whilst flying his drone around the airport.
— the big cheese (@Cheesemong) December 20, 2018
Eurocontrol, an international organisation which coordinates air traffic across Europe, posted in a “tactical update” that flights at Gatwick were expected to be grounded at least 9:00 a.m.
According to Reuters, the UK Airprox Board recorded a tripling of near-misses between commercial jets and unmanned aerial vehicles from 2015 to 2017, with 92 such incidents reported in 2017.
Drones are potentially capable of causing much more serious damage to aircraft in flight than birds, which have been associated with numerous airline disasters over the years. A helicopter crash landing in the U.S. earlier this year was attributed to a drone sighting, while a 2017 collision between a U.S. Army helicopter and a DJI drone was blamed on an operator who flew his drone out of sight.
There’s no word on whether authorities have any leads on who is flying drones near Gatwick Airport or why, though it’s a sure bet that anyone found responsible for the delays will wish they hadn’t.
According to Trusted Reviews, recent changes to UK drone laws stipulate that anyone found guilty of flying a drone above 400 feet or within a kilometre of airport boundaries can be charged with “recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft,” which can result in a fine of about £2500, or up to five years in prison. [Reuters]