Gatwick Airport: '˜This is a highly targeted activity designed to close the airport'

The CEO of Gatwick Airport has said more needs to be done to stop drones from causing havoc at major airports.

Government agencies are helping to track down the drones. Picture: Eddie Mitchell
Government agencies are helping to track down the drones. Picture: Eddie Mitchell

Gatwick’s CEO Stewart Wingate’s statement, released this evening, follows almost 24 hours of chaos and confusion as sightings of drones around Gatwick Airport airspace meant all planes had to be grounded.

He has confirmed there will not be any flights before 7pm tonight but many airlines – such as EasyJet - have already confirmed they have cancelled flights for the rest of today. It is not known how flights tomorrow will be affected.

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Anger and frustration

Government agencies are helping to track down the drones. Picture: Eddie Mitchell

In a statement Mr Wingate said those at Gatwick shared the ‘anger and frustration’ felt by passengers and confirmed that the illegal drone flights were 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 said. “We hope passengers appreciate that we must and will always prioritise their safety over everything else.

“We are all working flat out to minimise inconvenience and have additional staff in both terminals assisting passengers who are waiting.

“Regrettably we are still not in a position to say when it will be safe to reopen the airport. As soon as we can we will.”

Drone sightings continue

Mr Wingate confirmed that the first reports of two drones flying in and around the airfield came in at 21:03 last night (Wednesday, December 19) and that drone sightings were still being received.

He added: “Until we are confident that the issue has been resolved it would clearly not be in the interests of passengers to do so as we could be jeopardising their safety.

“So regrettably, for the time being, the airport will remain closed as a result of this criminal activity.”

Severity of the situation

Government agencies are now helping the police, trying to track down the drones and ground them.

Mr Wingate said: “We know that everyone, including Government, appreciates the severity of the situation and are very grateful for the active role that the police are taking to try and resolve this.

“We all recognise the urgent need to take the necessary steps that can lead to services getting back to normal as quickly as possible.”

This cannot happen again

The CEO has said that after the situation has resolved serious and quick discussions need to be held to prevent such a thing from happening again.

“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,” Mr Wingate said.

“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. “In the meantime all our focus is on sorting the current challenge and getting services back to normal for passengers.

“At the moment, I am not in a position to say with certainty when that might be but everyone is doing whatever they can to help make that happen.”

Passengers are being urged to check the latest information on their flights directly with their airline or on the Gatwick website.