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Gatwick Airport reopens after drone chaos; police eye possible environmental protest

An EasyJet aircraft on the final approach for the landing at Gatwick airport in London on Friday.
(AP)

Flights take off again in Britain’s Gatwick Airport following a nightmare 36 hour delay affected more than 100,000 travellers – as officials investigate the possibility of the rogue drone operator was the installation of an environmental protest.

The airport resumed operations Friday morning after being closed since Wednesday night, when mystery drones first began to appear around the runway. The next day-and-a-half, there were about 40 reported sightings of the drones – the most recent gig last night around 10 pm local time.

The police have not yet figured out that flying drones – or why they do – but are looking into all possible angles in their investigation.

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Terrorism is excluded, but when asked by Sky News if the drone disruption was an environmental protest, Britain’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said it was “clearly a possibility”, although “we really don’t know at this time”.

Extinction Rebellion, an environmental activist group that blocked roads in London in November in an attempt to the question of the British government “tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency,” all denied any involvement in the Gatwick delays.

“We have heard, there are rumors in circulation,” the group posted on Twitter. “We remind people that our actions are always ‘above the ground’ in the sense of our actions, be responsible and take the consequences.”

Passengers wait to check in at Gatwick Airport on Friday.
(AP)

Although the drones are not spotted Friday – there is no guarantee that they will not come back to cause more problems for travellers trying to get somewhere for the Christmas holidays. The airport says about 110,000 people had been scheduled to pass through Gatwick on Thursday, but none of the 760 flights.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association told Sky News on Friday that it was “very concerned” about the threat of the drones coming back now that the flights will resume.

Officials have not said much about the brand and model of the drones, except that they seem to meet the “industry specifications,” according to the Associated Press.

And it is not entirely clear what would happen if they managed to collide with a plane.

In the tests of the University of Dayton in September, a simulation that simulated a 2.1-pound drone hit a commercial plane traveling at 238 km / h made “significant damage to the wing.”

Investigation of a group of universities in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration also evaluated the potential impact of a 2.7-lb. quadcopter and 4 lb. quadcopter; and a 4-lb. and 8-lb. fixed wing drone on a single aisle commercial transport jet and a business jet.”

But the FAA says in this test, the structural damage levels of severity ranged from no damage to the failure of the primary structure and the penetration of the drone into the airframe.”

Ravi Vaidyanathan, a robotics lecturer at London’s Imperial College, told the BBC: “the threat of the larger aircraft by drones is small, but not negligible.”

Despite the potential of the drones to reappear at Gatwick, officials there say that they are better prepared to deal with them.

“We have measures in place now where if the drone is shown in terms of physical response, in terms of a technical response, we must be in a much better position now to follow and capture of the drone,” Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry told Sky News.

Counter-drone equipment is used on a roof at Gatwick.
(AP)

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, added Friday that “a number of mitigation measures that a number of the government and the army to ensure that I have the confidence to be able to reopen the airport.”

Gatwick also says: “expect knock-on delays and cancellations of flights” Friday, when things are back to normal.

“If you are due to travel from london Gatwick today, we recommend that you check the status of your flight with your airline before departure to the airport,” warned passengers on its website.

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