Thousands of passengers at one of the UK’s busiest airports after drones were seen flying over Gatwick airport on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

Two drones at the second-busiest airport in the UK were spotted on Wednesday evening at 9pm overflying the airfield, prompting flights to be halted. The single runaway was briefly opened at 3:01am, but was forced to close again about 45 minutes later amid “a further sighting of drones”.

This is not the first time this has happened. In 2016 for example, a ‘drone‘ collided with an A320 passenger jet that was on final approach to London’s Heathrow Airport. This has prompted aerospace manufacturer Airbus to partner with an anti-drone company to design technology that ‘protects’ lower airspaces from small, consumer UAVs.

Gatwick delays

But Gatwick it seems has no defences in place yet.

Remember, in the UK it is illegal to fly a drone in the vicinity (1 kilometre) of an airport, as well as fly drones “beyond the direct unaided line of sight”.

Flights near crowds of people and near buildings are also prohibited.

But Gatwick announced on Thursday that “all flights to and from Gatwick are currently suspended.

“Following reports of two drones flying over the Gatwick Airport airfield at around 9pm on Wednesday 19 December, and several further sightings since, our airfield remains closed for safety reasons,” it stated. “We are still investigating these alongside Sussex Police.”

Sussex police for their part have reportedly been reluctant to shoot down the drones due to the risks associated with a stray bullet.

“Unfortunately, this has led to a significant number of flights being diverted to other airports and all flight arrivals and departures are currently suspended from Gatwick,” said the airport.

Flights are being diverted to other airports including London Heathrow, Luton and Manchester.

Read More: Can you fly drones in London?

The drones have caused widespread disruption and has affected tens of thousands of people flying into and out of the United Kingdom.

“We apologise to all of our passengers who are impacted today, but the safety of our passengers and all staff is our priority,” said Gatwick airport.

Drone defence

Earlier this year it was reported that France was being targetted by both NASA and Amazon to help in the development of a drone air-traffic control system.

The country has key experts needed for this development, and it is helped by the fact that France has less stringent laws governing the use of unmanned vehicles.

It comes after it was reported in 2014 that NASA was developing an air-traffic control system specifically for drones.

But there is little doubt that the arrival and uptake of drone technology has led to some headaches for authorities, concerned at risks to the public and commercial aviation.

This has led to the development of some unorthodox approaches.

Dutch police for example are training eagles to take out airborne vehicles that could pose a threat to public safety.

Meanwhile the Japanese police have created a dedicated drone squad. That drone squad is equipped with a specialised drone that uses a net to disable the target drone.

The US government meanwhile is known to be working on technologies for protecting the public and sensitive areas from rogue drones, although little is known about its takedown methods.

Previously, pop star Enrqiue Inglesias suffered injuries to his hand after trying to grab a drone which was being used to capture images of the crowd in order to get a personal view of his fans.

And research by the University of Birmingham has previously highlighted the privacy, safety and indeed security risks of drones over the next 20 years, especially as the unmanned aircraft could be possibly used by terror groups to attack public events.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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