Gatwick Airport’s runway reopened this morning after drone activity above the airfield caused havoc and closure of the airport for nearly 36 hours – which prevented 120,000 passengers from catching their flights.
The airport released a statement at 08.00h which said the runway is currently available and a limited number of aircraft are scheduled for departure and arrival.
The airport said 765 flights were scheduled for departure and arrival. Gatwick said the flights planned for Friday would have about 126,000 passengers on board. About 140 flights have been cancelled.
The first flights in and out of Gatwick were two easyJet and two British Airways departures and one China Eastern Airlines arrival from Shanghai.
It reads: “Gatwick’s runway is currently available having reopened at 06:00. A limited number of aircraft are taking off and landing at Gatwick this morning but our departures and arrivals rate is currently very restricted to just a few runway movements every hour so passengers must expect delays and cancellations again today.
“Gatwick continues to strongly advise passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to the airport.
“Overnight we have been able to work with partners, including Government agencies and the Military to put measures in place which have provided the confidence we needed to re-open the runway and ensure the safety of passengers, which remains our priority.
“We continue to provide welfare and information to all disrupted passengers who are at the airport and have had teams in throughout the night. Our priority today is to get our operation back on track so that people can be where they need to be for Christmas, and we will update as more information becomes available throughout the day.”
The drone was first spotted at Gatwick’s airfield at 21.00h on Wednesday night and caused the cancellation of flights throughout that evening and yesterday affecting 120,000 passegers and leaving many stranded in the two terminals.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today, the airport’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe said the runway could be reopened as there were new resources available. He said extra “mitigating measures” from the government and military had given him “confidence to reopen”.
However, he refused to say if the drone was to be shot down if it appeared again and also said the operator of the drones have not been found. Police said it was possible they were an environmental activist.
The army was called in yesterday evening to help police and it is thought they are positioned ready to take out the drone if resurfaces. It was seen a few times overnight but not this morning leading to the opening of the runway.
Ryanair moved its flights today from Gatwick to London Stansted Airport while other airlines have adjusted their schedules, although there is still cancellations.
Police said yesterday the drone action was a “deliberate attempt to disrupt flights” and also refused to rule out terrorism.
UK Government Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said there was no evidence it was terror-related.
Yesterday, the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) called for tougher laws and enforcement for drones.
The ERA said the lack of regulation with regards to the ownership and use of drones has been of great concern to ERA for a long period of time and it is now time for tougher laws and enforcement to be put in place.
ERA director general, Montserrat Barriga said: “The use of airport geo-fencing systems which track the trajectory of a drone will go some way to combating this menace, but it is now a priority to toughen laws and create larger no-fly zones around airports.
“Equally, considering more drones are likely to be given as gifts this Christmas, it is clear more education must also be given to ensure the public know how to fly in a safe and sensible manner.
“In the meantime, it is imperative that all governments take the necessary steps to expedite the regulation process of drone operations, both commercial and recreational.”