“Please do not travel to Gatwick”, drone surge halts all flights
Updated at 15:09 GMT.
Drones spotted in and around London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) airfield on the morning of December 20, 2018, have led to the suspension of all flights “for safety reasons”. And the uproar seems to be serious. The airport says its airfield has been closed as authorities continue to investigate multiple drone sightings detected since the previous evening.
Gatwick, Britain’s second largest airport, states it has closed its airfield “following reports of two drones” flying over the airfield at around 9 pm (GMT) on December 19. And according to airport officials, there have been “further sightings since”. The airport is currently investigating the drone sightings alongside the Police from the county of Sussex, while the airfield remains closed.
According to the information on FlightGlobal, the police has described the event as "deliberate", although there are no suggestions of a terrorism-related act. "We are extremely disappointed that what appears to be deliberate action is affecting journeys at this important time of year," Gatwick's latest statement indicates.
Meanwhile, passengers due to fly today, and even those coming to meet someone at arrivals, are being urged not to travel to Gatwick without checking their flight status. According to a message on the airport’s official website, posted on December 20, 2018, at 9 am (GMT) and then updated again at 10:30 am (GMT): „All arriving and departing flights are currently suspended while we investigate reports of drones flying close to our airfield.”
“Please do not travel to Gatwick without checking the status of your flight with your airline, as there are significant cancellations and delays today,” the message reads. “We apologise to all of our passengers who are impacted today, but the safety of our passengers and all staff is our priority.” The airport has been quick to notify travelers, spreading the message on its social media channels. Here is what Gatwick said on Twitter:
Gatwick’s flight tracking shows almost all arrivals cancelled for the coming hours, with others flying in with significant delays; a number of flights have already been diverted to other airports. There is little information on departures and the airport has yet to clarify the number of flights that will be affected.
However, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, told the TIME, that roughly 10,000 had been affected by the shutdown by the morning of December 20, including 2,000 whose planes were unable to take off from the airport. Another 2,000 were stuck at their points of origin and 6,000 had been diverted to other airports in the UK and Europe.
Gatwick has issued a media statement saying that as of 1:45 pm (GMT), the runway remains unavailable and all airlines have been advised to cancel flights until at least 4 pm (GMT). Passengers are now being told to change their travel plans well into tomorrow, as the airport expects the flight disruptions to continue."We are working tirelessly with our airlines to put plans in place to recover our operation once given the go ahead that our runway can re-open," the statement reads.
Here is the latest update on Twitter:
14.15: Our runway is still closed because of drone sightings. Flights are cancelled up to at least 16.00 today, while we constantly review the situation. Please do not set out for the airport for your flight without checking with your airline first. We're sorry for the disruption— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) December 20, 2018
This comes just a few days after the UK’ second busiest airport announced it is expecting to welcome a record number of passengers, totaling 2.9 million, this year as Christmas travels take off. It also expected December 23, 2018, to be the busiest day for departures, with 73,000 passengers taking off to celebrate the festive season.
Located in the South of Central London, Gatwick Airport saw 45.6 million passengers in 2017 on short and long-haul point-to-point services, including 7.3 million that traveled on long-haul. The single-runway airport flies to more destinations (over 228 of them) than any other UK airport. EasyJet has the biggest presence at the airport, which is also a major hub for British Airways, Wizz Air, Ryanair, Vueling, TUI Airways and Norwegian.
The ongoing flight disruptions at Gatwick will thus certainly put a strain on other airports and air traffic control systems, during an already busy holiday period.
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