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Drones have forced London’s Gatwick airport to close, leaving thousands of passengers stranded

December 20, 2018

Flights in and out of London’s Gatwick airport have been suspended since 9 p.m. yesterday after two drones were sighted near runways.

Disruption: At least 10,000 people have been affected by the closure, including 2,000 whose flights have been grounded, according to the airport’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe. The airport was briefly reopened at 3 a.m. but forced to close again 45 minutes later after another drone sighting. The airport is expected to remain closed until at least 12 p.m. GMT (5 a.m. EST). There are 760 flights, with 110,000 passengers, due to take off or land from Gatwick today.

Illegal: Police are yet to locate the operator of the drones, but whoever is responsible could be liable for several criminal offenses, including flying a drone within 1 kilometerof an airport, flying above 400 feet (120 meters), and endangering the safety of an aircraft, which carries a prison sentence of five years.

Inevitable: It was arguably only a matter of time until a situation like this occurred, thanks to the growing numbers of drone incidents at airports.

What can be done? Police did not want to shoot the drones down because of the risk of stray bullets. But there might be other options to stop this from happening again, including jamming technologies and geofencing software that prevents drones from being flown in restricted airspace. India has a “No Permission, No Takeoff” policy, which means drone pilots have to get permission before every flight. If the drone is found, forensics can now be used to identify its owner.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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