Gatwick Airport, United Kingdom | AFP | Two people were arrested in connection with the “criminal use of drones” at London Gatwick Airport, police said Saturday, after three days of disruption affected tens of thousands of passengers during the pre-Christmas getaway.
Drones were first sighted hovering around Britain’s second-busiest air hub on Wednesday, grinding the runway to a standstill and causing chaos for more than 120,000 people.
“As part of our ongoing investigations into the criminal use of drones which has severely disrupted flights in and out of Gatwick Airport, Sussex Police made two arrests just after 10:00pm (2200 GMT) on December 21,” the force’s Superintendent James Collis said.
“Every line of enquiry will remain open to us until we are confident that we have mitigated further threats to the safety of passengers.”
Police urged passengers and the public to remain vigilant around the airport, south of London, and report any further sightings.
Flights resumed on Friday after a new drone sighting briefly forced planes to be grounded as a “precautionary measure”, a Gatwick spokesman said.
Sussex Police said officers had been using “a range of tactics” to hunt for the mystery drone operators and “build resilience to detect and mitigate further incursions” from the device.
The dangers posed by drones include the possibility of a device smashing into a passenger plane or being sucked up into an engine where its highly flammable lithium battery could cause a catastrophe.
– Widespread disruption –
Passengers, many trying to get home for Christmas or to start their holidays, were advised to check the status of their flights before travelling to the airport.
On Friday morning a Gatwick spokesman said 91 of the day’s 412 scheduled arrivals had been cancelled, while 64 of 371 scheduled departures had also been scrapped.
The army was called in on Thursday to offer support, with the defence ministry deploying what was described only as specialist equipment.
“There are a range of measures which are there today which should give passengers confidence that they are safe to fly,” Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC on Friday.
Government officials held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.
– Cat and mouse chase –
There had been more than 50 sightings of the device or devices since the first reports at 9:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Wednesday and shooting down the drone had been considered as an option, said Jason Tingley of Sussex Police.
“We will do what we can to take that drone out of the sky and remove that disruption,” he said.
Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey said on Thursday: “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield the drone reappears”.
Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said officers were working on the theory there was more than one drone.
Before Friday’s sighting at 5:10 pm (1710 GMT), a drone had last been spotted at around 10:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Thursday.
– ‘We’re in limbo’ –
Some 10,000 passengers were affected on Wednesday night, and a further 110,000 who had been due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights Thursday.
Mike, from London, had his flight cancelled on Friday and will miss his connection to Ghana.
“We’re in limbo. We don’t actually know when we’ll be flying out at all because we haven’t been promised a rescheduled flight, we haven’t been promised any further information, any compensation. Nothing at all.”
Darcis, 32, who was supposed to arrive from Milan on Thursday and had to sleep at the airport, said: “I cannot understand why such a small thing can cause an international airport like Gatwick (to close). They should be ready for these things. I really don’t understand what we can do.”
The drama dominated Britain’s newspapers on Friday, with speculation that an eco-activist was responsible.
Gatwick, around 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of the British capital, is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world’s busiest single-runway air hub.
Inbound flights were diverted to other airports, including Paris, while passengers waiting to take off faced gruelling delays.
Under a new British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometre of an airport, or at an altitude of over 400 feet (122 metres).
Violators face up to five years in prison for endangering an aircraft.