'Gatwick chaos must not be repeated at regional airports'
PUBLISHED: 15:11 21 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:11 21 December 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
Cities like Norwich that rely on their airports for tourism and trade "cannot afford" a repeat of the chaos that has gripped Gatwick, a government source has said.
Gatwick Airport was closed from late on Wednesday evening until Friday morning after drones were spotted flying above the runway and inside the perimeter.
There were around 40 sightings of what were thought to be a “small number of drones” while the West Sussex airport was closed.
Passengers – many hoping to leave the country to spend Christmas abroad – were left sleeping on the floor of the terminal as police played cat and mouse with the drone operator who remains at large.
A source said the government was taking the closure seriously and was investigating ways to make sure a similar incident could never happen again.
He said: “This is unprecedented stuff to be honest. No-one was completely sure what they should be doing or how to handle it. Very quickly a lot of people have become semi-experts on drones.
“The first issue, of course, has to be safety. There was no way any airport would risk passengers’ safety and I think those poor people left stranded at Gatwick understood that.
“We really have to get our heads together with the industry – airports and airlines – and the police to stop this kind of thing happening.
“Regional cities like Norwich cannot afford to have a threat like this hanging over their airport so we must act fast and make sure something is sorted. And when the police do find the perpetrator and he or she is in front of a court I hope a very clear message is sent out.”
A spokesman from Regional and City Airports, who own Norwich Airport, said: “Our airports are on standby to accommodate any diversionary flights from Gatwick, subject to operational requirement and capacity.
“Safety is the key priority for all airports and we are watching developments closely. RCA will take its lead from industry regulators on how best to prevent illegal drone flying in prohibited airspace.”
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “We are facing a new kind of threat. We are looking at the best ways of making protections permanent.”
Meanwhile RAF Lakenheath, where US Air Force units are based, released a video making the rules about drone use clear.
A spokesman said: “In the interest of safety and security, and in accordance with the United Kingdom’s Air Navigation Order 2018, RAF Lakenheath is a protected aerodrome. This means that drone use is prohibited on our installation as well as within one kilometre of our perimeter.”