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Flights resume at London Gatwick; hunt still on for drones

A plane comes in to land at Gatwick Airport in England, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. Flights resumed at London's Gatwick Airport on Friday morning after drones sparked the shutdown of the airfield for more than 24 hours, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded or delayed during the busy holiday season.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
December 21, 2018 - 9:40 AM

LONDON - Flights resumed Friday at London's Gatwick Airport after drones spotted over the airfield sparked 36 hours of travel chaos, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded or delayed during the busy holiday season.

The drones were first spotted Wednesday evening, sparking the suspension of flights at Britain's second-busiest airport. The last confirmed drone sighting was at 10 p.m. Thursday and flight operations resumed just before 6 a.m. on Friday.

Gatwick's runway is "now available and aircraft are arriving and departing," the airport said, adding that it still expected "knock-on delays and cancellations to flights."

Around 145 of the 837 flights at Gatwick on Friday were cancelled, the airport said. In the afternoon, it strongly warned passengers to "check the status of your flight with your airline before departing for the airport."

The prospect of a deadly collision between what British police described as industrial-grade drones and a passenger plane led authorities to stop all flights in and out of Gatwick on Thursday.

The British military joined police and aviation authorities in searching for the culprit or culprits behind the drone intrusion, which police said was designed to cause maximum disruption over the holiday period.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said Friday there had been about 40 sightings of "a small number of drones" while the airport was shut down. He told the BBC that the drone disruption at Gatwick was "unprecedented anywhere in the world."

Greyling said additional "military capabilities" and a range of security measures had been put in place overnight but would not elaborate. He said the airport was considered safe for flights Friday even though the drone operator had not been apprehended.

Some British officials said shooting down a drone remains a "tactical option" but there were concerns that could inadvertently hurt people on the ground.

Other authorities disagreed.

"Shooting the drone out of the sky is probably one of the least effective options" available, said Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry of Sussex Police.

He said police believe there was more than one drone operating around Gatwick in the last two days and that it was possible the drones were being operated from fairly far away.

Gatwick Airport, located 30 miles (45 kilometres) south of central London, sees more than 43 million passengers a year. About 110,000 had been scheduled to pass through on Thursday, one of the busiest days of the year.

The closing of Gatwick caused a spillover of problems through the international air travel system, as many planes were diverted to other airports and thousands of passengers sought alternatives to using Gatwick.

The hundreds of travellers stuck at Gatwick itself by the closure described freezing conditions as they slept on benches or the airport floor. Many complained they weren't being kept informed about re-routed flights.

The motive for the drone invasion wasn't clear but British police said there was no indication it was "terror related."


Frank Griffiths in London contributed.

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
The Associated Press

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