London’s Gatwick Airport Reopens; Drones Still a Threat

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Britain’s second busiest airport reopened on a limited basis Friday.

Gatwick Airport shut down late Wednesday after drone sightings forced officials to cancel flights, disrupting the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of holiday travelers.

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, advised passengers to “check with their airline on each of those flights that they’re intending to get, to establish whether it’s one of the flights that’s being operated or one of the flights that’s being canceled, before they come to the airport.”

Threat of collision

Sussex Police Chief Steve Barry said the number of drone sightings at Gatwick has been “unprecedented,” but police have “a number of options” to help to deal with the disruptions.

Woodroofe told the BBC’s Today Program that the situation at Gatwick has highlighted that airports are ill-prepared to deal with drones.

Sussex Police Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw said earlier this week, “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears.” He said the newer-generation drones are bigger and have more range, making it harder for police to locate the person controlling the device.

Police said while they have no doubt the intrusion was a deliberate attempt to disrupt operations, there were “absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related.”​

Thousands affected

The shutdown at Gatwick, located about 45 kilometers south of London, affected flights at London’s main airport, Heathrow, as well as other hubs across Europe. Authorities diverted all incoming flights to alternate destinations, while all outgoing flights were grounded.

More than 43 million passengers a year travel through Gatwick.

Authorities haven’t released details about the drones being used except to characterize them as meeting “industrial specifications.”

The motive for the drone use isn’t clear. Police say there is no indication it is “terror related.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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