Police ‘had only trained to deal with one drone at a time’ before Gatwick chaos

Police failed to stop drones causing chaos near Gatwick Airport because they had only trained to deal with one device at a time, a senior officer has suggested.

A number of drone sightings forced Britain’s second-busiest airport to shut down for 33 hours in December, disrupting 140,000 passengers’ journeys.

The chaos continued despite a huge police operation and the Army was eventually called in to bring the incident under control.

Drones close Gatwick airport
Queues of passengers in the check-in area at Gatwick Airport during the disruption between December 19 and 21 (Thomas Hornall/PA)

On Tuesday Lucy Fisher, defence correspondent for The Times, reported that a senior officer for Sussex Police put the problem down to the force only having trained to deal with one drone at a time.

She said that Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw had made the comments at the Interpol World Conference in Singapore last week.

He reportedly said: “We had at some stages two drones, which caused the airport to close for about 30 hours…We’re happy that on at least a couple of those occasions there were two drones flying.

“We were prepared, we’d done a lot of work beforehand around drone mitigation. We had a drone response plan.

“We’d been tested by the Centre for the Protection of National infrastructure and we came out really well on that around our drone plan.

“But that was really around a single drone incursion and not a multiple one.”

Drones close Gatwick airport
Counter drone equipment deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport in December 2018 (Gareth Fuller/PA)

In the wake of the chaos between December 19 and 21, Gatwick bosses spent millions on anti-drone measures, but would not reveal precise details of the equipment being used.

The Israeli-developed Drone Dome system was believed to be among the  technology used at the airport by the Army in bringing the situation under control.

The anti-drone equipment can detect and jam communications between a drone and its operator.

A spokeswoman for Sussex Police said: “Our superintendent was speaking at a private conference of security professionals.

“He reaffirmed, as we have always reported, that this illegal drone incursion presented a unique challenge for those agencies involved.

“This was deliberate, targeted and persistent, designed to disrupt airport operations.

“There has been a significant amount of learning from the incident which has already been applied.

“This has been shared with key partners, both nationally and internationally, to help reduce the threat of hostile drone incursions at airports, with public safety being the priority.”

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