Gatwick Drone Operators Had ‘Detailed Knowledge’ Of Airport

The police have no new lines of inquiry, as their investigation into who was behind the drone disruption at Gatwick airport last Christmas petters out

And suspicion is growing that the disruption was an inside job, after the police report said that people with “detailed knowledge” of Gatwick used two drones to shut down the airport for 30 hours.

Days before Christmas, Gatwick airport had to take the unprecedented decision to close its single runway over a three day period, after drones were spotted. Every time attempts were made to re-open the runaway, drones appeared once again.

Multiple sightings

The multiple appearances of a number of mysterious drones delayed the Christmas get away of 140,000 passengers and disrupted 1,000 flights.

Despite an extensive police search and the use of military systems, as well as £50,000 reward, the unidentified drone operators were not caught.

A couple were arrested, but were released without charge. The police also reportedly carried out 1,200 house-to-house inquiries and took 222 witness statements in a police operation costing £790,000.

According to the Guardian newspaper, during the drone attack at the airport, Sussex police received 129 sightings of drone activity, with 109 of these from “credible” witnesses including a pilot, plus workers and police at the airport.

“The incident was not deemed terror related and there is no evidence to suggest it was either state sponsored, campaign or interest-group led,” a Sussex police spokesman told the Guardian newspaper. “No further arrests have been made.”

“Through corroborated witness statements, it is established that at least two drones were in operation during this period, and the offender, or multiple offenders, had detailed knowledge of the airport,” the police spokesman said.

“Witness statements show activity happened in ‘groupings’ across the three days on 12 separate occasions, varying in length from between seven and 45 minutes,” the spokesman added. “On six of these occasions, witnesses clearly saw two drones operating simultaneously.”

Inside job

Ever since April, the police began to suspect that the criminals who operated the drones may have been an insider at the airport.

Sussex Police said at the time the possibility that an insider was involved was “credible”, while Gatwick’s chief operating officer said the attacker appeared to have knowledge of airport procedures.

“It was clear that the drone operators had a link into what was going on at the airport,” said Chris Woodroofe at the time.

Woodroofe is Gatwick’s chief operating officer, who oversaw the airport’s response to the incident.

He said the attacker could apparently see what was happening on the runway, or was eavesdropping on the airport’s radio or internet communications.

The drone used was “specifically selected” as one that could not be seen by the DJI Aeroscope drone-detection equipment Gatwick was testing at the time, Woodroofe told the BBC’s Panorama programme in April.

Gatwick said it spent £5 million on drone detection equipment following the incident, which Panorama said included two sets of Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) gear, one of the systems deployed by the military during the attack.

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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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