Hi-tech radars target drones as Gatwick flights resume

Drones over Gatwick Airport could be blasted out of the sky with a shotgun or jammed using a hi-tech radar system as police continue to hunt for the unmanned aircraft and their operators.

The runway was reopened on Friday morning after planes were stopped from flying in and out of the airport for around 36 hours.

Police believe more than one unmanned aircraft was responsible – although none have been sighted since around 10pm on Thursday – and are investigating the possibility of multiple culprits.

Gatwick Airport
Gatwick Airport

Military equipment is being used to stop further drone disruption, while a range of tactics are in place if any unmanned aircraft are seen inside the perimeter.

One piece of equipment believed to have been deployed at the airport is the Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, which can detect drones using radar.

It can also jam communications between the drone and its operator, enabling authorities to take control of and land the drone.

Drones close Gatwick airport
Drones close Gatwick airport

Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said less sophisticated options are also available, including shotguns, although blasting drones out of the sky was one of the least effective tactics.

Police are keeping an open mind over the motive, with theories including an environmental protest, but are not treating it as a terrorist incident.

Mr Barry said there is no evidence of involvement of a foreign power, but described the drone activity as “really high-end criminal behaviour”.

Friday 09.30: Gatwick's runway is now available and aircraft are arriving and departing. There are knock-on delays and cancellations to flights and we strongly recommend that you check the status of your flight with your airline before setting out for the airport today. pic.twitter.com/W35C46TpNp

— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) December 21, 2018

“This is a really significant criminal offence,” he said.

“There are resources here at Gatwick Airport now to mitigate the threat of that and a lot of resources to bring the offender to justice.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted passengers were safe to fly and many arrived for their flights amid ongoing disruption.

However, a Gatwick spokesman said 91 of 412 scheduled arrivals have been cancelled, while 64 of 371 scheduled departures have been cancelled.

Passengers queue for information at Gatwick
Passengers queue for information at Gatwick

Production assistant Garron Akushie-Stevens, 26, had been due to fly to his uncle’s wedding in Ghana on December 24, but was told the earliest available flight was on Christmas Day.

“I’m highly disappointed. He is a very close uncle to me,” he said.

“It’s unacceptable. I feel disheartened. I feel traumatised by this experience.

“I feel let down. I feel as though I have been thrown to the wolves.”

Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said he hoped the airport would be back to normal by Saturday, but refused to rule out similar disruption in the future.

“We have been working with technology providers ourselves for the last 12 months but stood here today, there is no commercially available airport-licensed proven technology that I could implement,” he said.