Military equipment used as Gatwick reopens after drone chaos

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Military equipment is being used to stop further drone disruption at Gatwick Airport as Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted passengers are safe despite the operator not being caught.

The runway reopened for a limited number of flights at 6am on Friday after being shut down on Wednesday night due to drones flying inside its perimeter.

Police were engaged in a cat and mouse hunt for the perpetrator on Thursday, but said “each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears”.

Mr Grayling said there had been around 40 sightings of what were thought to be a “small number of drones” while the West Sussex airport was closed.

He would not give details of what protection measures had been put in place, but told BBC Breakfast some of them were “military capabilities”, adding: “There are a range of measures which are there today which should give passengers confidence that they are safe to fly.”

Chris Grayling
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted passengers are safe (Victoria Jones/PA)

More than 120,000 passengers were unable to either take off or land at the airport from 9pm on Wednesday and throughout Thursday.

Passengers faced severe disruption as aircraft were stuck on the tarmac at Gatwick, while inbound flights were cancelled or diverted to alternative airports as far away as Amsterdam and Paris.

A further 126,000 passengers were due to travel on Friday, but 145 out of the scheduled 837 flights have already been cancelled as aircraft are out of position and the airport’s operations are restricted to just a few departures and arrivals per hour.

Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Our advice to our passengers is to check with their airline on each of those flights that they’re intending to get, to establish whether it’s one of the flights that’s being operated or one of the flights that’s being cancelled, before they come to the airport.

“I’d just like to apologise to all of those affected over the last 36 hours.”

Police had considered shooting the drones down after other strategies failed.

Officers were working on the assumption that the devices have been modified with the intent of causing disruption and were looking through CCTV to identify the make and model.

A “number of persons of interest” are part of their investigation.

According to reports, one line of inquiry is that a lone wolf eco-warrior was behind the incident.

The chaos sparked calls for more action to tackle misuse of drones.

Earlier this year, new laws came into force which ban all drones from flying within one kilometre of airport boundaries.

Drone users who flout the restriction face an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

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