Barring any last-minute surprise, the second-busiest airport in the UK may finally reopen again before the end of the week after being forced to close since 9 p.m. local time Wednesday because of a pair of drones spotted flying close by.
It might sound minor, but officials quickly scrambled to shut down Gatwick Airport, south of London, after what was determined to be a purposeful attempt at causing disruption to the airport and to the tens of thousands of travelers left stranded there. British authorities have spent the day discussing emergency measures, like new powers that police and the military could be imbued with to stop this kind of panic-by-drone.
To be clear, there’s no indication yet of any kind of terrorism link to this incident, but Sussex police do believe the yahoos piloting these drones did this on purpose. Per a CNN report, Sussex police superintendent Justin Burtenshaw told the UK Press Association that “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears.”
It’s certainly amazing that devices as small as a couple of drones, without even leading to any kind of violence or causing direct threat to anyone, can bring the ordinary course of business at a major airport crashing to a halt. Or that drones are able to even get close enough to an airfield in the first place to cause this kind of disruption.
To that end, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly said her government is looking at the possibility of “further police powers” so that this kind of thing can be kept in check. Using a drone like this in the UK to threaten aircraft can land you a maximum five-year prison sentence. Police at the time of this writing were still hunting for the drone operators, and there’s even a possibility that British troops may join in that search.
The Associated Press reports that the UK’s Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers has been calling for the implementation of geofencing and that other counter-measures be taken to minimize disruption from drones. “Hundreds of flights have been canceled and more than 100,000 travelers disrupted at the U.K.’s second-busiest airport since drones were spotted over the airfield on Wednesday evening,” the news service reports. “Gatwick first closed Wednesday night at around 9 p.m. (2100 GMT) when drones were sighted. It reopened at around 3 a.m. (0300 GMT) Thursday morning but shut down again in 45 minutes when drones were spotted.”