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‘Limited number’ of Gatwick flights resume after drone attack

A “limited number” of flights were re-introduced from Gatwick early this morning following a drone attack which paralysed the airport affecting thousands of pre-Christmas passengers.

Gatwick said the runway was available from 6am “and a limited number of aircraft are scheduled for departure and arrival”.

But flights will be subject to delays and cancellations, the airport warned.

Gatwick said 765 flights were scheduled for departure and arrival today, handling 126,000 passengers, but about 140 flights have been cancelled.

Amid the chaos, Gatwick continued to advise passengers to check the status of their flights before travelling to the airport today.

In an update at 8am, the airport said: “Gatwick’s runway is currently available having re-opened at 6am.

“A limited number of aircraft are taking off and landing at Gatwick this morning but our departures and arrivals rate is currently very restricted to just a few runway movements every hour so passengers must expect delays and cancellations again today.

“Gatwick continues to strongly advise passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to the airport.

“Overnight we have been able to work with partners, including government agencies and the military to put measures in place which have provided the confidence we needed to re-open the runway and ensure the safety of passengers, which remains our priority.

“We continue to provide welfare and information to all disrupted passengers who are at the airport and have had teams in throughout the night.

“Our priority today is to get our operation back on track so that people can be where they need to be for Christmas, and we will update as more information becomes available throughout the day.”

EasyJet said the airport had confirmed that the runway had re-opened by 4.30am.

“We do expect that the number of departures and landings will be restricted to begin with, which means that we are likely to experience mre disruption to the flying programme,” the budget airline added.

However, Ryanair switched all of today’s Gatwick flights to Stansted due to the earlier runway closure.

The airport said that 120,000 passengers had been affected since the runway was closed involving 760 flights due to depart or arrive on Thursday alone.

Gatwick now faces the prospect of clearing the backlog of hundreds of flights while airlines have to re-organise schedules around many aircraft which have been left out of position.

Additional airport staff were called in, many from Christmas leave, to deal with the crisis.

Flights were grounded from Wednesday after a drone was spotted over the airport causing airlines to ground aircraft and inbound flights to be diverted across the UK and Europe.

Police reported more than 50 sightings of the drone since the runway was first closed.

It remains unclear if the drone operator has been caught or who was responsible.

The last drone sighting was at 10pm last night, police said.

Sussex Police assistant chief constable Steve Barry told the BBC that the “very significant criminal behaviour” could carry a life sentence. He suggested te culprit could be an environmental activist.

Airport CEO Stewart Wingate slammed the inconvenience caused to passengers by “criminal behaviour” and said he shared their real anger and frustration that it has happened.

“This is a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas. We are working very closely with the police and the security services to try to resolve this for passengers,” he added.

“Although not for today, these events obviously highlight a wider strategic challenge for aviation in this country which we need to address together with speed – the aviation industry, government and all the other relevant authorities.

“It cannot be right that drones can close a vital part of our national infrastructure in this way. This is obviously a relatively new technology and we need to think through together the right solutions to make sure it cannot happen again.”

Aer Lingus said: “We’re putting contingency plans in place to minimise disruption, including increasing capacity to Heathrow and accommodating guests at other London airports.

“All guests booked to/from Gatwick on Friday 21 December have the option to change their flight for free.”

Meanwhile, former Labour transport minister Andrew Adonis warned: “What’s happening at Gatwick is just a foretaste of what would be happening across all ports and airports in the event of the no-deal Brexit which Theresa May is ludicrously threatening rather than agreeing to a people’s vote, which most people now want.”

In other developments:

• Pilots union Balpa is calling on the government to impose a 5km exclusion zone for drones around airports.

General secretary Brian Strutton said: “We have been working closely with the Department for Transport on these issues, and we were pleased to see new drone laws put in place earlier this year, but we said they do not go far enough.

“The government was clear to Balpa that they were open to extending the 1km exclusion zone, and it is now obvious that that must happen urgently. Balpa is calling for a 5km exclusion zone.

“This incident also reinforces the need for registration of drones and licensing of operators so that the police can track and trace drones which are being flown dangerously or irresponsibly and for the industry to invest in technology which can detect drones and stop them from being flown near airports and aircraft.”

• The European Regions Airline Association wants to see “more robust and harmonised” EU-wide drone safety regulations.

The association demanded “necessary steps” to prevent the flying of unregulated drones near airports and aircraft.

Director general Montserrat Barriga said: “The use of airport geo-fencing systems which track the trajectory of a drone will go some way to combating this menace, but it is now a priority to toughen laws and create larger no-fly zones around airports.

“Equally, considering more drones are likely to be given as gifts this Christmas, it is clear more education must also be given to ensure the public know how to fly in a safe and sensible manner.

“In the meantime, it is imperative that all governments take the necessary steps to expedite the regulation process of drone operations, both commercial and recreational.”

MoreDrones affecting Gatwick flights all day after runway is shut twice

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