London’s Gatwick Airport reopened today after a 33-hour closure prompted by repeated drone sightings over the airfield. Authorities continued to search for the operator of the drone, which they said was being used in a “deliberate and serious” attempt to disrupt air traffic at the U.K.’s second-busiest airport.
“Overnight, we have been able to work with partners, including government agencies and the military, to put measures in place which have provided the confidence we needed to reopen the runway and ensure the safety of passengers, which remains our priority,” airport officials said in a statement published on the airport website. “Our priority today is to get our operation back on track so that people can be where they need to be for Christmas.”
The airport added that “knock-on delays and cancellations to flights” were expected throughout the day.
At least 120,000 passengers were affected during the shutdown, which began at 2100 local time Wednesday and continued until 0600 today. Operations were not expected to be back to normal until late Saturday. In a news release earlier this week, the airport said 2.9 million passengers were expected to travel through the airport over the holiday period.
Sussex Police said that an increased police presence at Gatwick and other unspecified safety measures had been introduced to enable the airport’s reopening and that they had “active lines of enquiry” aimed at identifying those responsible for the drone flights.
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said that detection and tracking equipment had been installed around the airport perimeter and that, if a drone is sighted, the airport will be closed again.
“BALPA remains extremely concerned at the risk of a drone collision,” Strutton said. “It is possible that the rogue drones may go undetected around the perimeter or could obstruct the flight paths outside the immediate detection zone.”
He said that BALPA has issued guidelines for its pilots if they see a drone, including requesting a speed reduction or an alternate route.