Dozens of flights have been diverted after Gatwick Airport’s runway was closed because of reports of two drones flying close to the airfield. More than 4,000 passengers have landed at other airports from Stansted to Manchester .
As a result of planes and flight crew being in the wrong place, the first wave of departures from Gatwick on Thursday morning has been jeopardised.
The runway was closed at 9.03pm, at a time when many short-haul planes converge on the Sussex airport on their final flights of the day.
An airport spokesperson said: “Following reports of two drones flying over the Gatwick Airport airfield, we have had to suspend flights while this is investigated. We apologise to any affected passengers for this inconvenience but the safety of our passengers and staff is our foremost priority.”
British Airways and easyJet, the largest airlines at Gatwick, were worst affected. BA diverted some flights, including those from Barcelona and Glasgow, to Heathrow. Services from Seville and Nice went to Stansted.
The easyJet flight from the Isle of Man landed in Manchester, while a service from Catania diverted to Stansted airport.
A Thomas Cook flight from Enfidha in Tunisia is at Birmingham Airport, as is the Norwegian Air arrival from Tromso.
Most airlines are being held on the ground with passengers on board so that they can fly to Gatwick in order to begin operations on Thursday on schedule. Passengers on some diverted easyJet flights are being told: “We plan to refuel and continue your flight. Your crew will be keeping you up to date on the situation.”
Gatwick Airport was briefly closed because of drone activity in 2017, with five flights diverted. Tonight’s disruption is much more serious.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has been calling for a much bigger exclusion zone for drones around airports.
The union also wants drones to be registered and their operators tested.
BALPA’s head of flight safety, Dr Rob Hunter said: “Even two kilograms of metal and plastic, including the battery, hitting an aircraft windscreen or engine or a helicopter tail rotor, could be catastrophic. People who buy these devices need to make sure that they know the rules and stick to them, so they don’t put anyone’s life in danger.”
Passengers stranded as a result of the diversions are entitled to accommodation and meals, but not to cash compensation since the cause was beyond the airline’s control.
Several passengers reported the diversions and long waits for take-off on social media.
Twitter user Seun Olayanju posted: “AerLingus currently stuck at Gatwick waiting for the heavily delayed E10249 to Dublin. Please can you confirm if the flight will run tonight?”
Honor Ireland wrote: “Landed at Stansted when we should be at Gatwick Airport due to a supposed drone sighting – car is at Gatwick, fantastic!”
John Belo said: “Plane should have departed an hour ago from Gatwick Airport – captain confirmed there are reports of a drone in the area ... still waiting.”