Police identify ‘persons of interest’ after drone disruption at Gatwick

said they were investigating “persons of interest” as authorities struggled to identify who operated the drone or drones that caused Gatwick to close for 36 hours, as services at the airport resumed on Friday.

About 160 out of 837 scheduled flights were cancelled, allowing the majority of 126,000 passengers booked to get away as planned, albeit with slight delays, after the runway opened just before 6am.

There was no recurrence on Friday of the drone sightings that had put Gatwick’s runway out of action – whether or not due to the appearance of police and with detection and jamming equipment at the airport.

The airport said the “additional mitigating measures” put in place by the police and military were allowing planes to fly again. A first arrival from China landed at about 6am and the first departure, a Norwegian Airlines flight to Lapland, took off soon after.

Sussex police said several significant lines of inquiry were being pursued and an environmental protest was “a possibility”. But police were not linking the drone or drones to terrorism. The airport’s runway was first closed after sightings at about 9pm on Wednesday, which ran until 10pm on Thursday – disrupting or ending the travel plans of 110,000 passengers scheduled to fly that day.

Assistant chief constable Steve Barry said police were working on the theory there was more than one drone, but added: “In terms of motivation there is a whole spectrum of possibilities, from the really high-end criminal behaviour all the way down to just individuals trying to be malicious.”

Speaking outside Gatwick, he said measures to tackle the threat included “technical, sophisticated options to detect and mitigate drone incursions, all the way down to less sophisticated options – even shotguns would be available to officers should the opportunity present itself”.

Police and government would not confirm what equipment was being used but photos from Gatwick suggested that military-grade drone tracking and signal jamming machines had been brought in.

The pilots’ union Balpa said it understood that detection and tracking equipment had been installed around the airport perimeter, but it remained concerned about the risks. Brian Strutton, the Balpa general secretary, said: “It is up to the relevant authorities to decide whether it is safe to reopen Gatwick given that the rogue drone is still around and may be expected to fly again.

“[We] remain extremely concerned at the risk of a drone collision. It is possible that the rogue drones may go undetected around the perimeter or could obstruct the flight paths outside the immediate detection zone.”

 

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