Government defends response as drone mayhem grounds Gatwick airport since last night

Nearly 15 hours after a drone first stopped flights out of one of the capital’s biggest airports, police are still trying to stop it so flights can resume.

“There are no indications to suggest this is terror related,” said Sussex police who have been trying to bring it down since last night and hunting for whoever is flying it.

“Public safety is paramount and we will take all available actions to disrupt this deliberate act”

Thousands of passengers have been hit and many more will be as the day goes on. Amid unprecedented crowd scenes, Gatwick airport apologised but insisted that safety was paramount.

The incident started around 9pm on Wednesday night. The airport is advising anyone due to fly or collect someone from the airport on Thursday to check before setting out.

It is illegal to fly a drone within 1km of an airport – a crime that can carry a prison sentence of up to five years.

Gatwick Airport policing commander Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw told the BBC “we are still getting sightings of the drone in and around the airfield. I have got over 20 units from Surrey and Sussex and from the airport searching for the drone operator. We are exploring other options to try and bring this situation to a close.

“Each time we believe we get close to the operator the drone disappears when we look to reopen the airfield the drone reappears, so I’m absolutely convinced it is a deliberate act to disrupt Gatwick airport.

“There has been no intelligence that this is going to happen. This is just a random act that has happened overnight… It is a painstaking thing. The bigger the drone the further the reach of the operator so it is a difficult and challenging thing to locate them. But I’ve got teams and investigators looking at how we do that and I’m confident we will.”

Shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald warned: “events at Gatwick Airport highlight the urgent need for clear rules on the use of drones near airports. There has been growing concern over the increasing number of near misses between drones and manned aircraft and the government has been too slow to act.”

The Labour MP added: “The government should fast-track the introduction of a regulatory framework to protect against the misuse of drones and ensure the safety of UK airspace. This should include a drone exclusion zone around airports.”

Transport minister, Baroness Sugg, is due to give a statement about the disruption at Gatwick in the House of Lords before lunch.

She defended the response, saying: “the police are working to bring the drone down, and I am confident that they will do so.

“Our priority is to get that airport open as safely as possible so that people can fly off on their Christmas breaks, or people who are coming in to visit friends and family.”

Police are appealling for the public to help with the source of the drone mayhem.

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