1035 GMT October 21, 2019
The disruption that grounded most of the flights at Gatwick, 50 km (30 miles) south of London, on Thursday began late on Wednesday when authorities at the airport closed the runway after two drones were spotted near the airfield.
Reports said more than 110,000 passengers had been affected by the grounding of flights, many of them Christmas travelers who were forced to camp in the terminal with their children and the elderly, Presstv Reported.
Authorities said flights would remain cancelled until further notice on Thursday while police said it had sought help from the army to use its “special equipment” to down the drone as shooting it out of the air was dangerous due to fear of stray bullets.
“The police advice is that it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets,” Gatwick Chief Operating Officer Chris told the BBC, adding that one of the drones detected near the airport was of a heavy industrial type.
Security officials said there were no terrorism motives involved although they had yet to come up with an explanation about who was operating the unmanned planes. More than 20 police units were unsuccessfully hunting the operators as the drones were still being spotted around Gatwick.
Prime Minister Theresa May said her government was mulling plans to give police more power in dealing with recreational drones in future. A spokesman of May’s office said the drone flying as “irresponsible and completely unacceptable”.
UK Airprox Board regulator has estimated that private drones and aircraft had 92 near-collisions in the country last year, adding that the number of such incidents had increased by three times between 2015 and 2017.
Authorities believe a surge in near misses between unmanned aircraft and commercial jets in recent years in Britain is mainly due to growing public enthusiasm for drones. Trespassing on the airport’s 1-kilometer boundary with drones is punishable by five years in prison in Britain.