Travelers Face Chaos as Drones Shut London’s Gatwick Airport

LONDON (AP) -
A terminal link train arrives behind a glass window at the snow covered terminal station at London’s Gatwick Airport. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)

London’s Gatwick Airport remained shut during the busy travel period on Thursday while police and airport officials investigate reports that drones were flying in the area of the airfield.

Passengers were advised to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport. The airport said all incoming and outgoing flights were suspended.

Any problem at Gatwick causes a ripple effect throughout Britain and continental Europe, particularly during a holiday period when air traffic control systems are under strain.

The airport first closed Wednesday night at around 9 p.m. (local time) when drones were sighted. It reopened at around 3 a.m. Thursday morning but shut down again after 45 minutes when drones were spotted.

Passengers complained on social media that their flights had landed at London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. Other flights were sent to France and the Netherlands. One traveler whose flight was diverted tweeted that passengers weren’t being told when they could continue to their destination.

Gatwick is a busy airport about 30 miles south of London, hosting a variety of short- and long-haul flights and serving as a major hub for the budget carrier easyJet.

Gatwick normally operates throughout the night but the number of flights is restricted because of noise limitations. The airport website says it usually handles 18 to 20 flights overnight during the winter months.

Gatwick said in a statement that it apologized for the inconvenience but had to put safety first.

There have been occasional reports of drones nearly hitting commercial airliners in the London area in recent years. Strong sales of small consumer drones have led to repeated warnings about a possible threat to commercial aviation.