London, UK : Service at Gatwick Airport in London resumed on a limited basis Friday morning, 34 hours after drones were first sighted and holiday travel was disrupted.
Flights were grounded and inbound planes diverted at 9 p.m. Wednesday when two drones were discovered. After six hours, the runway was reopened but 45 minutes later another drone was detected.
At 7 a.m. Friday, the airport announced the service had resumed after 120,000 passengers on 760 canceled flights were disrupted, Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, said to reporters. Another 682 flights were at risk of being delayed or canceled Friday.
“Gatwick’s runway is currently available and a limited number of aircraft are scheduled for departure and arrival,” the airport posted on Twitter.
“Gatwick continues to advise passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to the airport as departures and arrivals will be subject to delays and cancellations.”
Gatwick said the airport — the second largest in Britain — had continued to remain closed because of continued drone sightings in and around the airfield.
“We share passengers’ frustration and are grateful for their ongoing patience,” the airport said.
In a letter by CEO Stewart Wingate, he said the airport was working with the police and government agencies to resolve the situation.
“We know that everyone, including government, appreciates the severity of the situation and are very grateful for the active role that the police are taking to try and resolve this,” Wingate wrote. “We all recognize the urgent need to take the necessary steps that can lead to services getting back to normal as quickly as possible.” ‘
More than 50 drones were detected in the 24 hours since the first one, said Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley, of Sussex Police.
He said they were following up a “number of persons of interest” in their investigations.
The first planes to land after being given the all-clear were a China Eastern Airlines flight from Shanghai and a plane from East Midlands Airport.
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Rogue drones circulating above one of Europe’s busiest airports have grounded flights and left thousands of Christmas travellers stranded.
London’s Gatwick airport cancelled all 760 flight departures and landings since Thursday (Australian time), as the British army worked with local police to tackle the presence of drones being “deliberately” flown above the runway.
A total of about 110,000 passengers were affected as the airport’s runway was forced to close for more than 17 hours, cancelling flights until further notice.
Police have ruled out terrorism as the motive, as authorities continue the search for two suspects responsible for triggering the biggest disruption at Gatwick since a volcanic ash cloud in 2010.
Authorities resisted shooting the drones out of the air for fear of stray bullets, Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said.
Georgia-bound passenger Ani Kochiashvili spent six hours overnight sitting on a plane with her children.
“I’m very annoyed because I’m with two kids, a three-month-old and three-year-old,” she told Reuters by phone, among thousands camped in the terminal.
“They require a lot of space and food and changing and all that, and the airport is crazy busy so it’s challenging.”
Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the drone flights as “irresponsible and completely unacceptable”, adding that police may be given greater powers against drones in the future.
The airport and its biggest airline, easyJet told, passengers to check before heading to the terminal, where people sat waiting on stairs and floors.
Mr Woodroofe described one of the drones as a heavy industrial model.
“The police advice is that it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets,” he told BBC radio.
Drone expert Peter Lee, of Portsmouth University, said he and others had been anticipating disruption.
“An airport would be a preferred or obvious target for somebody who wants to either just create mischief or criminal damage,” he said.
“One of my concerns about today is that it may well encourage copy-cat incidents because you can achieve a high amount of disruption for a very, very low cost.”
Even after Gatwick re-opens, the backlog and disruption are expected to last for days.
Gatwick said that it was working with its airlines, the biggest of which also include British Airways and Norwegian, on recovery plans once the runway re-opens.
It apologised on Twitter to passengers, adding that safety was its “foremost priority”.
Gatwick, which competes with Europe’s busiest airport Heathrow, west of London, had previously said that Sunday would be its busiest day of the festive period.