Two people have been arrested in connection with the “criminal use of drones” at London’s Gatwick Airport, police said on Saturday, after three days of disruption affected tens of thousands of passengers during the pre-Christmas getaway.
Drones were first sighted buzzing around Britain’s second-busiest air hub on Wednesday, forcing the runway to close and causing chaos for more than 140,000 people.
“As part of our ongoing investigations into the criminal use of drones which has severely disrupted flights in and out of Gatwick Airport, Sussex Police made two arrests just after 10:00pm (2200 GMT) on December 21,” the force’s Superintendent James Collis said.
“Every line of enquiry will remain open to us until we are confident that we have mitigated further threats to the safety of passengers.”
A Gatwick spokesman said the airport planned to run a full schedule of 757 flights carrying 124,484 passengers on Saturday.
But he warned that passengers should expect some delays and cancellations “as we continue to recover our operations following three days of disruption”.
Police urged passengers and the public to remain vigilant around the airport, south of London, and report any further drone sightings.
Flights resumed on Friday but were briefly halted after a new drone sighting forced planes to be grounded as a precautionary measure.
Sussex Police said officers had been using “a range of tactics” to hunt for the mystery drone operators and “build resilience to detect and mitigate further incursions”.
The dangers posed by drones include the possibility of a device smashing into a passenger plane or being sucked up into an engine where its highly flammable lithium battery could cause a catastrophe.
– Widespread disruption –
The army was called in on Thursday to offer support, with the defence ministry deploying what was described only as specialist equipment.
“There are a range of measures which are there today which should give passengers confidence that they are safe to fly,” Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC on Friday.
Government officials held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.
The Times newspaper on Saturday reported Grayling had shelved plans earlier this year to introduce laws regulating drone use despite being warned about the risk they posed to airports.
“We were promised a new legislation back in 2017,” Andy McDonald, the main Labour Party’s transport spokesman, told BBC radio.
“There’s been a lack of attention to this.”
Aviation minister Elizabeth Sugg said the government planned to “introduce new laws to ensure that drones are used safely and responsibly”, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Under a new British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometre (about half a mile) of an airport, or at an altitude of over 400 feet (122 metres).
Violators face up to five years in prison for endangering an aircraft.
– Cat and mouse chase –
There had been more than 50 sightings of the device or devices since the first reports at 9:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Wednesday and shooting down the drone had been considered as an option.
Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey said on Thursday: “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield the drone reappears.”
Before Friday’s sighting at 5:10 pm (1710 GMT), a drone had last been spotted at around 10:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Thursday.
Mike, from London, had his flight cancelled on Friday and will miss his connection to Ghana.
“We’re in limbo. We don’t actually know when we’ll be flying out at all because we haven’t been promised a rescheduled flight, we haven’t been promised any further information, any compensation. Nothing at all.”
Darcis, 32, who was supposed to arrive from Milan on Thursday and had to sleep at the airport, said: “I cannot understand why such a small thing can cause an international airport like Gatwick (to close). They should be ready for these things. I really don’t understand what we can do.”
Gatwick, around 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of the British capital, is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world’s busiest single-runway air hub.
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