December 20, 2018

Drones Shut Down London’s Gatwick Airport


Photo above: Technicians survey the damage to an Aeromexico Boeing 737 caused by a drone.

Two drones have wreaked havoc on the business and holiday plans of tens of thousands of air travellers at Gatwick airport in England. Authorities closed the two parallel runways to traffic shortly after 21:00 UTC following the appearance of two drones flying over the perimeter fence and into the runway operations area. The airport reopened at 03:00 UTC Thursday only to close again after the reappearance of the two drones. At 12:00 UTC Thursday, the authorities reported that a drone had again been sighted within the previous hour.

British police say that they believe the incident is not terror-related, but rather a “deliberate act” of disruption, using “industrial specification” drones. They have called in the army to render logistical assistance, including soldiers on the ground and helicopters.

The airport was expected to remain closed until at least 19:00 UTC Thursday, but authorities decided to keep the airport closed for a second night.

This follows an incident last week when a Boeing 737 operated by Aeromexico incurred damage to its nose in what Mexican authorities are assuming was a mid-air collision with a drone. The collision occurred while the 737, on a flight from Guadalajara, was on its approach to Tijuana airport in northern Mexico. The aircraft landed safely, but the damage to the nose was extensive.

In an article published Thursday by the U.S.-based magazine The Atlantic, the author writes, “Though technology does exist to track, divert or disable rogue drones, those systems are being tested and rolled out slowly on an ad hoc basis in a handful of locations around the country.”

Canada has already experienced a mid-air collision between a commercial aircraft and a drone when, in October of 2017, the wing of a Beech King Air operated by charter company Skyjet was struck by a drone while it was approaching Quebec City’s Jean Lesage airport. In that incident, the aircraft suffered only minor damage and was able to land safely.