Drone causes chaos at Gatwick Airport

London Gatwick, the UK’s second-busiest airport, closed its runway at around 6pm today after a drone was seen flying dangerously close to incoming passenger aircraft.

An airport spokesman confirmed: "Runway operations at Gatwick were suspended between 18:10 BST and 18:19, and again from 18:36 to 18:41, resulting in a small number of go-arounds and diverts."

It has been confirmed that there were five flights forced to divert to other airports; one of these was a British Airways flight rerouted to Bournemouth and the other four were easyJet aircraft that subsequently touched down at London Stansted.

Those on-board the affected aircraft were told that they would be landing elsewhere after circling Gatwick several times. It’s understood that once they had arrived at their divert destination, passengers were given the choice of either disembarking the plane or waiting another hour to fly back to Gatwick.

Both airlines apologised to passengers, asserting that the circumstances were completely beyond their control.

Sussex police have confirmed that they will be launching an investigation into the incident.

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Drones have increased in popularity in the last decade, with a growing number of enthusiasts regularly launching them into UK skies. This has brought about issues for airlines though as the number of ‘near-miss’ incidents has become alarming. Over the course of 2016 there were 70 near-misses, double the amount that took place the previous year. In 2017 so far, there has already 33 incidents involving drones.

Of all the 142 near-miss situations that have been reported since 2010, 40 have occurred near Heathrow, and 6 have been near Gatwick.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a strict code of conduct for drone users:

  • Don't fly near airports or airfields
  • Remember to stay below 120m (400ft) and at least 50m (150ft) away from people
  • Observe your drone at all times
  • Never fly near aircraft
  • Enjoy responsibly

It would appear that drone pilots are unaware or considerate of these recommendations as they are frequently breached; for example, in February 2016, a drone came close to collide with an aircraft at a staggering 12,500ft.

There have been recent calls for a drone pilot registration process to get the problem under better control and prevent a disaster from occurring in the future.