Update 3: In what has become an unceasing nightmare for thousands of travelers, Gatwick Airport could be closed for another full day as even the British Army has struggled to find the pilot operating several drones that have been spotted flying over the airport's air field, paralyzing Europe's eighth largest airport during one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.
A spokesperson for the airport warned travelers to stay away from the airport "for the foreseeable future including tomorrow".
A Gatwick Airport spokesperson says passengers should not come to the airport "for the foreseeable future including tomorrow"— Sky News Breaking (@SkyNewsBreak) December 20, 2018
Sky News shared this video to remind the public of the damage that a drone can cause an airplane, which prompted us to wonder: What's really going on here?
See what damage a drone can cause to a plane.— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 20, 2018
Scientists at the University of Dayton research institute show us why it is important to regulate drones near airports.
Get more on this story here: https://t.co/KEKsmcJrcP pic.twitter.com/y4Yz7yDHui
Because something about this picture just doesn't look right:
* * *
Update 2: All flights out of Gatwick (Europe's eighth largest airport) remain grounded as the army is helping local police hunt for the anonymous drone pilot (or pilot) who has disrupted the holiday travel plans of tens of thousands of people, according to AFP.
British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to take action, and said she sympathized with those affected.
"We will continue to work with the Gatwick authorities and police will be working...in order to bring this to a close," she said at a press conference in London.
It's still unclear when flights might resume.
* * *
Update (11:20 am ET): The military has arrived, and the 'dronekillers' are coming out.
According to the latest reports, the Royal Army is deploying 'specialty equipment' to take down the troublesome drones that have ground traffic at the airport to a halt by lingering over the airport's runway.
- OPERATION AT GATWICK IS TO `ASSIST' POLICE: DEFENCE MINISTRY
- U.K. MILITARY IS `DEPLOYING SPECIALIST EQUIPMENT' AT AIRPORT
- UK POLICE CONFIRM REQUEST FOR MOD HELP WITH GATWICK DRONES
It's also possible that the military could deploy new technology to 'jam' the drone signals and take control of the aircraft, as one official told the House of Lords, according to the Telegraph.
On Thursday morning, Lord West of Spithead, a retired senior officer of the Royal Navy, told the House of Lords on Thursday that the Army and GCHQ have developed the capability to both jam drones and over-ride their control systems enabling them to land the aircraft safely.
Talking to Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg, he said: "Our military and GCHQ have developed the ability to be able to identify the frequency very rapidly to actually be able to jam it or take control of the drone and land it.
In any case, the headache from the drone incident will linger for longer than the drones are in the air. Airport authorities have said it could take days for the holiday disruptions to be resolved.
* * *
Update (10:50 am ET): The Royal Army has been called in to try and help neutralize the drones that have brought traffic at London's second largest airport to a standstill, according to the Telegraph.
The Army has been called in to help deal with the mayhem at Gatwick caused by drones flying near the airport.
Sussex Police have formally requested the help of the military and a source told The Telegraph assistance could come in the form of helicopters, vans or soldiers on the ground.
Ministry of Defence officials currently in a meeting to discuss whether or not they need to deploy, and how to do so.
An MOD spokesman said: "There are ongoing discussions with the police about any military capability that could be provided to assist with their operation."
The culprits responsible for piloting the drones have continued to evade capture.
While Sussex police have said they can't shoot down the drones with conventional bullets for fear of unspecified collateral damage, we imagine they wish they were in possession of some experimental weapons designed by Lockheed Martin that could probably come in handy in London today.
As we pointed out back in March, US Marines tested a batch of new weapons earlier this year that included a weapon specifically designed to destroy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (aka drones). The weapon, nicknamed the "dronekiller", looks like a large laser gun.
Read more about it here.
* * *
Update (10 am ET): Gatwick has announced that flights will be cancelled until at least 7 pm London Time (2 pm ET) as drones continue to terrorize the airport's runway. The airport's manager "cannot say when flights will resume."
* * *
In a scary preview of the disruptions that could soon become commonplace in our technology-infused future, London's Gatwick airport has been shut down for more than 13 hours due to mysterious drones flying "over the perimeter fence and into where the runway operates from". Hundreds of flights have been cancelled, leaving tens of thousands of travelers stranded in the airport's "freezing" terminals during the holiday rush, according to reports in the BBC and the Guardian.
According to the Guardian, which is providing live coverage of the ongoing disruption, Chris Woodroofe, the airport's chief operating officer, apologized to passengers and explained during a Sky News interview that the drones would not be shot down because of the risks posed by stray bullets. Police are asking the public's help in finding the drone operators.
Police have been searching the perimeter of the airport to find the operators of the drones - who could face up to five years in prison if apprehended. The incident has kickstarted a conversation in the UK about imposing tighter regulations on drone operators (and stiffer penalties for anybody operating drones without the proper authorization).
"As I stand here, there is a drone on my airfield as we speak," Woodroofe said.
While two drones had terrorized the runway for most of Wednesday evening. The BBC reported that 110,000 passengers had been expected to use the airport on Thursday, traveling on 760 flights. Gatwick had been expecting a record number of passengers during the holiday travel season.
1/2 Thurs 09.15: All flights to and from Gatwick are suspended due to ongoing drone activity activity around the airport. Unfortunately, there are significant delays and cancellations to all flights today.— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) December 20, 2018
2/2 Please do not travel to the airport without checking the status of your flight with your airline first. We apologise to everyone affected, but the safety of all our passengers and staff is our no.1 priority.— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) December 20, 2018
The runway was briefly reopened at about 3 am London Time (10 pm ET), but was swiftly closed when the drones returned. the airport said, but forced to close again about 45 minutes later amid "a further sighting of drones".
Flight from Kiev to #Gatwick was due to land last night at 21.45. We landed in Birmingham airport. Now almost 4am, still on the plane, no food or updates from our crew. Not allowed to disembark. Bodies sleeping on every seat and across the floors. 🇬🇧🙏❤️✈️ #GatwickAirport pic.twitter.com/nBrPquEGFM— Christopher Lister (@Listy_cl) December 20, 2018
The closure - now in its 13th hour - has been extended until at least noon London time (7 am ET).
UPDATE London Gatwick closure now extended till 12.00 UTC https://t.co/mA8kWbsU0D— AIRLIVE (@airlivenet) December 20, 2018
The government has criticized the drone operators as acting '"incredibly irresponsibly":
Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg: “These drones have been flown illegally and the operators, who have acted incredibly irresponsibly, could face up to five years in jail.” https://t.co/D1buFJyIOL— Dept for Transport (@transportgovuk) December 20, 2018
Gatwick, which is London's second-busiest airport after Heathrow, is advising passengers not to travel to the airport without checking with their airline first. Though the motives of the drone operators remain shrouded in mystery, Sussex Police have said "There is absolutely nothing to suggest that this is terrorism-related."
Ten thousand passengers have suffered flight chaos after the runway at Gatwick Airport was closed due to drones being flown nearby pic.twitter.com/Lt2k9jz21d— Press Association (@PA) December 20, 2018
It is illegal to fly a drone within one kilometer of an airport. Incoming planes are being diverted to other UK airports, including Heathrow, and some have been rerouted as far away as Amsterdam and Paris.
Incidents involving drones have been increasing:
One passenger who spoke with the BBC and the Guardian described a chaotic scene in the terminal, where pregnant women were seen sleeping on the floor.
Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, who had been visiting London, said: "There were pregnant women, one of them was sleeping on the floor.
There were people with small babies in here overnight, we saw disabled people on chairs. There were young children sleeping on the floor."
The cancellations have sown widespread confusion among passengers, who are struggling to figure out whether their flights have been rescheduled or moved to different airports.
Arthur Serbejs, 22, and Domante Balciuniate, 21, factory workers from Hastings, sat on the floor by a prayer room, approaching their 16th hour of waiting for a flight to Barcelona.
"We came about 6pm yesterday, and we’re going to be here until like 7pm," Serbejs said. "At 9pm yesterday we were on the plane for four hours - they turned the lights off and everything like it was going to take off."
"But we were still sitting there," Balciunate added. Serbejs said he had fallen asleep while the plane sat on the apron, hoping to wake up in Spain, "and I woke up and we hadn’t moved."
Eventually they were taken off the flight, and offered a hotel in Brighton, which they declined as they live close by. They were told they would get an email with a ticked for another flat, but none came. "We stood in line for three hours for a 30 second conversation saying 'your flight has already been transferred hours ago,' but we didn’t know about it," Serbejs said.
"It’s crazy, it’s my worst airport experience."
Several techniques have been devised for safely disabling rogue drones, including this surprisingly low-tech solution, devised by Dutch police: