In what appears to be the first intentional use of drones to disrupt civil aviation, continued sightings of two remotely piloted aircraft flying over and around the airfield at London’s Gatwick Airport starting the evening of December 19 have forced the airport to remain closed to flights for over a day. In a letter posted to Gatwick’s website, Gatwick Airport’s CEO called the continued drone activity “a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas.” He also said the airport is cooperating with law enforcement to end the “criminal activity.”
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As of 7:00pm London time on Thursday, Gatwick’s runway was still unavailable for takeoffs and landings “because of continued drone sightings,” the airport announced, and some airlines have cancelled all flights until further notice. “We apologize to all of our passengers who are impacted today, but the safety of our passengers and all staff is our priority,” an airport spokesperson said.
Drone sightings have been a safety concern around London’s airports for some time. In 2016, a British Airways flight landing at London’s Heathrow Airport apparently struck a drone while on approach for landing. Earlier that year, the United Kingdom’s Airprox air safety board issued an incident report on a near-miss in which a quadcopter drone passed within 20 feet of a landing Airbus A319 at Heathrow. And just a month ago, a drone came within 32 feet of a commuter aircraft landing at Edinburgh Airport. In the US, there have been hundreds of such incidents reported in recent years.