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Shutting down London’s Gatwick Airport with drones turned out to be alarmingly easy

Shutting down London’s Gatwick Airport with drones turned out to be alarmingly easy
[Photo: Martin Roell/Wikimedia Commons]

Some 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were scheduled to fly to and from London’s Gatwick Airport for the third busiest day for Christmas travel, but many of those flights were canceled thanks to some apparent morons with drones.

Gatwick’s runway, the second busiest in the U.K., has been shut since Wednesday night, the BBC reports, because of a “deliberate act” of flying drones near the airport’s airspace, making it impossible for planes to land or take off safely. The runway briefly reopened, only to shut down again 45 minutes later, and it remains closed on Thursday. The airport has since confirmed that it expects its runway to be closed until at least 4 p.m. on Thursday. Sussex Police claim the incident is not terror-related, but a “deliberate act” ostensibly by some idiots who think it’s hilarious. That said, the seeming ease with which this runway invasion has taken place is worrisome.

As you undoubtedly surmised, it’s illegal to fly a drone within 1 km (0.6 miles) of a U.K. airport without explicit permission. Responding to the incident on Twitter, the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority said that “it is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment.” Per the BBC, if the people piloting the disruptive drones are caught, they could face up to five years in prison as well as the inevitable pitchfork-and-torch wielding mob of disgruntled would-be passengers. Airports around the globe have been in an ongoing battle with drones, and companies have stepped up with innovative ideas on how to fix the problem, including using AI, radio bubbles, and more, but there has yet to be a universally effective solution.

Due to the drones, the travel disruption could last “several days,” and because of the backlog of passengers from the canceled flights, ripples of the effect could last even longer as people try to make it home for the holidays. Not only are travelers stuck at Gatwick, but hundreds more passengers are stranded across the U.K. and Europe on flights that were supposed to land at Gatwick. In short, it’s the perfect time for a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles sequel set in Europe.

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