London Gatwick operations are likely to remain disrupted overnight, as law enforcement officials continue their effort to locate those responsible for the drone activity which has put the hub out of action for 24h.
The extraordinary situation, which began on the evening of 19 December, has resulted in military resources – including specialist equipment – being deployed to assist the police and the airport operator.
“Our armed forces are always ready to support the civilian authorities,” says UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson.
NOTAM information has repeatedly extended the timeframe of the closure notification, and the airport operator is warning of possible continued disruption to airline schedules on 21 December.
The police effort has been designated Operation Trebor. Sussex county police’s specialist crime command says the situation is “particularly challenging”.
"In addition to the searches that are taking place on and around the airfield, we are deploying a number of tactical options to detect and counter these drone activities and bring this to a safe conclusion,” says detective chief superintendent Jason Tingley.
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate describes the drone activity as “highly targeted” and “designed to close the airport”, ensuring “maximum disruption” during the busy holiday travel period.
“We are all working flat-out to minimise inconvenience and have additional staff in both terminals assisting passengers who are waiting,” he adds.
“Regrettably we are still not in a position to say when it will be safe to re-open the airport.”
The operator has been unable to restart airport activity owing to continued drone sightings.
No information has been disclosed as to the possible identity of the perpetrators, whether individual or members of an activist group, or the specific motive behind the disruption. Police have reiterated that they believe there is no terrorism link.
“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,” says Wingate.
“We all recognise the urgent need to take the necessary steps that can lead to services getting back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Passengers affected by the disruption have been informed by the Civil Aviation Authority that the situation is likely to be categorised as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ – which means airlines would not be obliged to pay passengers any compensation under European Union rules governing air transport.
Gatwick's operator has not yet estimated the cost of the closure. The airport typically generates average daily revenues of more than £1 million from aeronautical income alone.