Flights at the United Kingdom’s Gatwick Airport, the second busiest in the country, have been grounded for more than 24 hours at least due to Rogue Drones flying in the vicinity.
The drone has shut down Gatwick for the past 24 hours as the Army was called in to help shoot it down and the 110,000 people stranded on the ground warned the chaos could continue until Christmas Eve.
The British army is working with police to see if it can tackle the presence of drones at Gatwick Airport
“There are ongoing discussions with the police about any military capability that could be provided to assist with their operation,” a spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defence said on Thursday.
Its rogue pilot is in a cat-and-mouse game with police and sent the unmanned small aircraft over the runway at 3 pm, minutes after airport bosses announced they had hoped to re-open at 4 pm.
Authorities at Gatwick halted all incoming and outgoing flights first at 9:00 PM local time on Dec. 19, 2018, after sightings of multiple drones. Officials tentatively expected that order to be lifted at 3:00 AM on Dec. 20, 2019, but have now extended the closure to at least 4:00 PM, as they continue to coordinate with Sussex Police and the U.K. military to ensure that it is safe to resume airport operations. Flights already in the air headed for Gatwick got diverted to other airports as far away as Paris, France.
760 flights were grounded over fears the drone could take down a passenger jet with Gatwick’s runway set to be closed until the manhunt ends.
The drone flights are ‘highly targeted’ and have ‘been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas’, the airport’s chief executive officer, Stewart Wingate, said.
Exclusive footage obtained by MailOnline shows the drone flying past Gatwick’s north terminal and over the runway before it dives away and lands to the east of the airport after being chased by a police helicopter.
On the ground armed officers carrying Heckler & Koch sniper rifles have been dotted along the runway ready to shoot down the drone – but have failed to end the most disruptive airport trespass in UK history.
Airport bosses have warned the disruption will run into Friday and Saturday – the busiest days of the festive getaway – but passengers already stranded are struggling to get a new flight before Christmas Eve or have had to cancel their trips completely.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed this afternoon that it has deployed ‘specialist equipment’ to deal with the situation after police requested help.
Officers requested soldiers to test the Army’s new weapon – known as a ‘Drone Dome’ or ‘kill-jammer’ – which can ‘soft kill’ a drone by knocking out its communications or a ‘hard kill’ by shooting it down with a laser from up to two miles away. The MoD has not confirmed what it meant by ‘specialist equipment’.
The shutdown at Gatwick today has renewed calls for the use of anti-drone technology at British airports including frequency jammers and early warning systems now common near US runways.
A police helicopter and dozens of officers on the ground are currently scanning a five-mile zone around Gatwick to find and arrest the suspect, who faces up to five years in jail.
With pressure increasing to find the perpetrator, Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw, the airport’s policing commander, said: ‘Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears. I’m absolutely convinced it’s a deliberate act to disrupt Gatwick Airport’.
In an emailed statement, Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling said: ‘This is clearly a very serious ongoing incident in which substantial drones have been used to bring about the temporary closure of a major international airport.
‘The people who were involved should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for the damage they have done.
‘Government is doing everything it can to support Sussex police.’
Authorities at Gatwick have said that flight operations at the airport will remain shut down “for the foreseeable future including tomorrow” and have told travelers not to come. As we noted could happen, this incident appears to have become a massive disruption for air travel in the United Kingdom and in other countries with flights to and from Gatwick at one of the business travel times of the year.