One of the UK’s biggest airports, Gatwick, is entering its third day of complete shutdown, which cancelled about 800 flights affecting 110,000 people cancelled as military called in to help hunt for perpetrator.
About 10,000 passengers were affected overnight on Wednesday and Gatwick said 110,000 people were due to either take off or land at the airport on Thursday. The airport advised that the runway would not open “until it was safe to do so” and disruption could last “several days”.
Incoming planes were diverted to other airports including London Heathrow, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow, Paris and Amsterdam.
Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said: “The police are looking for the operator and that is the way to disable the drone.”
He said police had not wanted to shoot the devices down because of the risk from stray bullets. It remained unsafe to reopen the airport after the drone had been spotted too close to the runway.
Mr Woodroofe said: “If we were to reopen today we will first repatriate passengers who are in the wrong place which could take several days.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed the Army has been called in to support Sussex Police.
He said: “The armed forces have a range of unique capabilities and this isn’t something we would usually deploy but we are there to assist and do everything we can so that they are in a position to open the airport at the earliest opportunity.”
Sussex Police said it was not terror-related but a “deliberate act” of disruption, using “industrial specification” drones.
Supt Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey, described attempts to catch whoever was controlling the drones as “painstaking” because it was “a difficult and challenging thing to locate them”.
“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 transport secretary, Chris Grayling, who ordered night flying restrictions to be lifted across other airports “so that more planes can get into and out of the country”, said that the perpetrators should face a heavy custodial sentence.