Drones Shut Down Gatwick Airport — Thousands Of Passengers Disrupted

Filed Under: Travel

I love plane spotting at airports and taking photos of some of my favourite aircraft or airlines. I’ve written before about one of the best places to do this at Heathrow.

But don’t do this.

London Gatwick Airport, the eighth busiest airport in Europe, has been closed since 9pm Wednesday evening (UK time), after two drones were observed flying over the perimeter fence.

Gatwick is a single runway airport, the world’s second busiest.

What is even crazier is that the runway re-opened briefly at 3am local time, before quickly closing again after drones were spotted again!

For anyone who doesn’t know what a drone is, they are popular devices that you can attach a camera to and operate with a mobile phone allowing you to record aerial footage.

Police have said the drones in question are ‘industrial size’ – a quick Google search shows what this means:

Industrial drone (Source: Dronelife.com)

Although this Saturday is likely to be one of the busiest travel days of the year in the UK, today (Thursday) will still see 110,000 passengers using Gatwick Airport on over 700 flights.

Inbound flights have been diverted to other UK airports. Fortunately London has five (or six) airports, depending on how you define ‘London.’

Some passengers who have been diverted to other airports have not been allowed to leave the aircraft so have slept on it overnight.

As you might imagine, the Gatwick Airport website shows the chaos this is having on flight schedules:

It is illegal to fly a drone within one kilometer of an airport boundary in the UK.

Airport officials are still trying to locate the drone operator(s) before reopening the airport. Assuming the drone is no longer in the air, if the operator has vanished, how are they going to reopen the airport given they have been looking for over 12 hours?!

Local police have called the incident a ‘deliberate disruption.’

Hopefully this will lead to better airport perimeter monitoring processes in the future, so this never happens again.

If you are due to fly in or out of Gatwick Airport today or tomorrow, check your flight status with the airline. This will be better than just arriving at the airport, which will be absolutely heaving, and trying to get information out of the stressed airport staff.

I imagine The Grain Store has a line out the door!

Bottom line

Gatwick is bursting at the seams already and today is a very busy travel day given it’s less than a week before Christmas Day. I feel for the thousands of passengers stuck at the airport with no idea when and how they will be leaving.

I’ll be interested to see how and when they reopen the airport assuming the idiot drone operator is not still in the airport area 12 hours later.

Anyone here using Gatwick today, or the rest of this week?

  1. Surprising that small drones can shut down an entire airport while hundreds of unpredictable birds flying around don’t.

  2. Looks like some plan at play………..perhaps, a dry run for something sinister down the road.

    Morons British Police……Search the buyer details of the drones (they ain’t cheap….not the garden variety crap) and seek friendly support from the 3 alphabet agencies across the pond…..some snack bar and take-a-beer behind this economical sabotage…………..

  3. OK, the first thing they should have done is get the police out there with shotguns to knock those drones out of the sky. Then trace them to their owner(s), who should face as many charges and civil penalties as possible.

    Rather than that, it seems like the British authorities spent the evening pissing around and accomplishing nothing of significance. Well done, gents.

  4. @stogieguy7

    It’s already been mentioned, and the police have said they can’t shoot them down for fear of stray bullets.

    I really hope they don’t attack another London airport tomorrow (as so many people are trying to get away for Christmas), or “inspire” other idiots to do copycat attacks at their local airport for a laugh.

    I am kind of surprised they didn’t attack Heathrow tbh, though I’ve seen comments online as Gatwick is quite rural it probably provides more hiding spots.

  5. When this whole drone craze began several years ago I said to friends “A drone will bring down an airliner one day and something that’s marketed as a fun toy will suddenly be regarded as a deadly weapon.” Nothing that has happened in the interim has changed my view. Just yesterday I was at Henry’s Camera Store in Halifax, Nova Scotia and there were almost more types of drones for sale than cameras…

  6. @ stogieguy7 – I have this sort of ‘Keystone Cops’ comedy image in my head of police running round in the dark around Gatwick bumping into each other while constantly looking up at the sky!

  7. Personally I don’t think drones should be legal. People can’t control themselves and if they aren’t doing stupid stuff like this, they are using them to spy on neighbors or create other mayhem.

  8. It’s a shame the police can’t do anything for fear of accidentally shooting someone. Surely most people around the area would have left. Also the army had just been called in

  9. This is such a bizarre story. Going on 24 hours, and FlightRadar 24 is reporting on twitter it is STILL shut down.

  10. The airports can,t win, if they let the flights go and a plane goes down, it will be terrible, I think trying to shoot them is not very clever, some sort of a jammer, maybe, or a helicoptor , dropping nets , with specila weighted ends, or daft as ir seems, drones crashing into them . I do agree they have made a bollock of it, something should have been in place, myself, i,d use my special ray gun, that distrups the workings,and melts it, but thats another story,

  11. @ Jackie

    Nothing: this has been defined by the CAA as an “exceptional circumstance”, so EU261 doesn’t apply.

  12. It’s still going to cost airlines a fortune as they have a right of care under eu261 and have to rebook on other airlines where possible , reroute , aircraft displaced etc

    @anon the terminal was saturated so people had to wait on board

  13. This being such a busy travel weekend it’s absurd what this disruption has caused. By the time those passengers reach their destinations on alternative flights it’ll be many many days. I mean most flights are usually at 100% load factors on the days leading to christmas. Just horrible.

  14. “Idiot drone operator” is redundant.
    “Idiot operator” or “drone operator” would be sufficient.

    These things are dangerous, will certainly kill a lot of people soon enough, and should not be sold to the public. You want to fly a drone? Take a class, get a license, and – here’s the key – every device needs to also be licensed AND have the ability to be tracked in real-time.

    As long as any moron can go buy one and fly it at will, it’s just a matter of time until a lot of people are killed. With all the idiots in the wold today, it’s simply a question of how long until that happens, where it does, and how many are killed. You may be among the victims.

  15. Flying to Heathrow first thing tomorrow on Air Malta.

    Air Malta operates flights to Gatwick, Tomorrow they are getting all passengers at Gatwick over to Southend Airport as its unlikely Gatwick will be operating normally!

    VERY Scary, VERY Dangerous and I feel so sorry for the 110,000 passengers affected.

  16. @jackie. Eu261 compensation applies IF THE AIRLINE IS RESPONSIBLE. Clearly the airlines are not here Gatwick is closed. There are absolutely no grounds for compensation

  17. Lumping all drone owners in with these guys is not fair. There are a lot of responsible drone owners out there. I do agree that drones are not regulated to the extent they should be. I will only fly in rural areas away from houses and other people. I completely agree that drone owners should be licensed. The $5 FAA registration for drones is not sufficient. I have even heard of people forgoing the registration even though that’s illegal.

    I don’t know if something similar exists in the UK, but the FAA has a great app that clearly shows where drone flying is allowed and where ATC needs to be contacted or even where it’s flat out illegal. While this is a great tool I doubt it’s used as often as it should. Drones need to have the ability to automatically block flight into restricted airspace.

  18. bobnl. Not at all. They have the means for controlling birds. How do they control these drones – moreover when the drone actions are intentional?

  19. On a British news Youtube video there was a showcase of drone jamming equipment that was claimed (and demonstrated) to be effective, needing just 2 for covering Gatwick. The segment outlined how it was more of the Transport Ministry being slow on getting such measures approved and deployed.

    I feel awful for the families separated during this busy holiday season.

  20. @ Jackie
    “I think EU261 applies here. Drones are not extrodinary.”

    It doesn’t matter what you “think”, the UK aviation regulator, the CAA, has confirmed that EU261 does *not* apply.

    It’s not just a question of whether or not something is “extraordinary”; it’s also whether it is in the airline’s control. Clearly, someone with drones deliberately buzzing an airport, which the airport operator then decides to close, is not within any individual airline’s control.

    The fact that the military has also been deployed (this is a very rare occurrence in the UK, where local police forces are in charge) might also suggest this situation is “extraordinary “…

    Anyway, good to see some flights again at LGW this morning.

  21. @Anon ……….. You do not understand U.K. Many flights due to land at Gatwick were diverted to small airports like Birmingham , Southampton and London -Luton and London- Stanstead. These airport do not operate at night so there were no staff there to handle passengers until 6am . This is why passengers had to stay on the aircrafts. Nothing to do with British hospitality .

    @ESA and miscellaneous morons – You also do not understand U.K. There is no legal requirement to register your name when you buy a drone in UK , you only need a license to fly it . I agree ,it is a bit stupid . UK needs to control the import and local manufacturing of drones , register buyers and issue licenses which require drones to be kept at a specified address, A bit like guns in USA. There are only regulations not to fly a drone within one mile of an airport perimeter , but obviously these criminals ignored that .

    Our son and family were flying from Gatwick today to Paphos in Cyprus at 7am, for Christmas. With Gatwick still closed last night ,their Easy Jet flight was changed from Gatwick to Stanstead ,4 hours later than original and Easy Jet sent my son an SMS and email to inform him . Email was sent at 1am , so someone is working late at Easy Jet to sort it out . WELL DONE EASY JET .

    What worries me is that terrorists could so easily fly a drone into any major airport , be it UK ,USA or another country . All airports need to get defenses as soon as possible

  22. I was scheduled to fly Norwegian, OAK-LGW got a text at 5am Thursday informing me of the cancellation and providing a full refund, managed to book a United flight SFO-FRA-LHR currently in FRA on a six hour layover.

  23. Would travel insurance payout for
    – delays
    – missed flights such as the positioning flight to get to EU for the long haul flight

  24. EU261 always applies on flights out of the EEA or on EEA based carriers. What people misunderstand is the difference between duty of care vs compensation. In this case, there is no compensation, but airlines have a duty of care (lodging, meals etc).

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