Drones were first spotted flying in the vicinity of the airport’s runway area shortly after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, prompting the airport to stay closed until 3 a.m. on Thursday, according to various media releases from Gatwick Airport.
However, 45 minutes later, there was another sighting, and the airport was closed again at 3:45 a.m. on Thursday morning.
Shortly after 4:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, Gatwick’s COO Chris Woodroofe said that the airport would remain closed for the rest of the night, as another drone had been spotted within the hour, The Guardian reported.
As the New York Times noted, flying drones within 1 kilometer of any U.K. airfield is against the law and punishable by up to five years in prison.
“We have had the police, we have had the military seeking to bring this drone down for the last 24 hours and to date that has not been successful,” Woodroofe said. “We will review overnight whether there is any potential to open tomorrow.”
A drone was spotted near the runway again around noon on Thursday, Woodroofe told journalists, according to CNN.
In a statement, the Sussex Police shared they believe this is a “deliberate act,” although “there are no indications to suggest this is terror related.”
Police are still looking for the operators of the drones, which they believe “are of an industrial specification.”
In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport apologized “for the inconvenience this criminal behaviors has caused passengers.”
On Thursday morning alone, around 111,000 passengers were scheduled to depart and arrive on 760 flights, an airport spokesman told CNN.
“This is a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas,” he added. “We are working very closely with the police and the security services to try to resolve this for passengers.”
“We are still receiving drone sightings in and around the Gatwick airfield. Therefore, until we are confident that the issue has been resolved it would clearly not be in the interests of passengers to do so as we could be jeopardizing their safety,” he said, adding that it’s unclear when the airport will be able to safely reopen.
“Regrettably, for the time being, the airport will remain closed as a result of this criminal activity. While some airlines have cancelled all flights up to 7pm tonight, we would encourage all passengers to check the latest information on their flights directly with their airline or on the Gatwick website,” he continued.
In a statement released at 1:45 p.m., Gatwick Airport shared that they anticipated delays to continue “throughout the day and into tomorrow,” before advising all passengers flying within that time frame “not set off for Gatwick without checking flight information with their airline.”
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As the hunt for those responsible for the drones continues, police are running into problems keeping track of the flying devices.
“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” Sussex Police Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw told the UK’s Press Association, according to CNN.
The Guardian reported that the Sussex Police have received nearly 50 reports of drone sightings near Gatwick since Wednesday evening.
The army has since been called in to aid the Sussex Police.