Gatwick Airport was shut down temporarily today and 12 inbound aircraft diverted to other hubs after suspected drone sightings sparked chaos. Britain’s second-busiest airport implemented safety procedures at around 1.44pm today as investigators raced to establish if there was drone activity close to the runway.
UK airports are subject to Flight Restriction Zones (FRZ) for drones and a 2.8 mile exclusion zone exists around Gatwick Airport for unmanned aircraft flight, subject to Air Traffic Control permissions.
It’s reported up to three drones were thought to have been spotted in the vicinity, according to The Sun.
Following the suspension of flights taking off and landing, Gatwick reopened by 2.35pm. When approached by Express.co.uk the airport did not confirm if any drones had been found.
A Gatwick Airport spokesperson said: “Passenger safety is the airport’s absolute priority and – following established procedures – operations at London Gatwick were suspended temporarily at 1344, while investigations into the sighting of a suspected drone close to the airfield took place.
“These investigations have now completed and the airfield reopened at 1435.
“Twelve inbound aircraft were diverted to other airports during the investigation, however we expect many of these to return to London Gatwick today.”
It’s understood some flights were forced to land at London Stansted in Essex, where they refuelled before flying back over to Gatwick in West Sussex.
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In 2018 Gatwick was subject to a drone activity that caused approximately 1,000 flights to be cancelled. Two people arrested over the incident were later released without charge.
On February 24 this year, at around 3.21pm, an EasyJet plane was flying at a speed of 300mph and at a height of 5,000 ft when it had a close encounter with the drone.
The incident occurred just three minutes after the Airbus A320 had taken off from Gatwick on a flight to Basel, Switzerland. UK Airprox Board, the official body for investigating near misses, stated in its report that the pilots initially thought the object was a bird before concluding it was a drone being flown illegally.
The pilots immediately informed air traffic controllers who put out a warning to other planes departing from Gatwick. The incident has been recorded under Category A which is the highest level involving a serious risk of collision.
Express.co.uk approached Sussex Police for comment.