About 11,000 passengers are crammed into Gatwick Airport, their flights grounded since last night as a drone operator repeatedly flew two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) close to the runway.
Flights can’t take off or land until it’s safe to do so, and that can’t happen until police find the operator.
Gatwick, a major international airport, is the UK’s second busiest.
The BBC reports that 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were due to arrive or depart today, with 2.9 million passengers due to pass through over the Christmas/New Year stretch.
Good luck with that. Travelers have been stuck on planes for hours, sleeping stretched out in seats or anywhere they could find as they waited for the all-clear, but every time airport authorities thought it might be safe, the drone buzzing would start again.
Gatwick, scrambling to provide all the food and water needed by the hoards of stranded people, has brought on extra staff to help out. Some people who were heading for sunny, warm holidays told a BBC Live reporter that they’ve been “left out in the cold”:
Megan Rayner: We are now in a hotel in Heathrow after being sat outside in the cold waiting for a coach transfer at 13:30 in the freezing cold with no coats (we are going on holiday to the Maldives) with my family – 16 of us in total including two babies.
Flight from Kiev to #Gatwick was due to land last night at 21.45. We landed in Birmingham airport. Now almost 4am, still on the plane, no food or updates from our crew. Not allowed to disembark. Bodies sleeping on every seat and across the floors. 🇬🇧🙏❤️✈️ #GatwickAirport pic.twitter.com/nBrPquEGFM— Christopher Lister (@Listy_cl) December 20, 2018
Police are searching for whomever’s operating the holiday-ruining drones. They don’t think it’s terror-related; rather, they’re considering it a “deliberate act” of disruption by somebody using “industrial specification” drones.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling described the Gatwick situation as a “very serious ongoing incident in which substantial drones have been used to bring about the temporary closure of a major international airport”. He called for the stiffest possible punishment to be doled out to whoever’s responsible:
The people who were involved should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for the damage they have done.
UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said that the perpetrators will be caught and will, in fact, face a prison sentence.
People are baffled, asking 1) why a few drones are such a big deal, and 2) why police can’t just shoot them down.
The answers: drones getting anywhere near aircraft are a big deal because they can get sucked into engines and down the craft. They’re similar to birds: flocks of birds have been blamed for bringing down scores of small planes and causing at least two major US disasters.
In the UK, a helicopter crash left five people dead in Leicester City. The cause of that deadly crash hasn’t yet been determined, but aviation experts have suggested that the helicopter’s loss of power to the tail rotor could have been caused by a large bird or a large drone.
As far as shooting them down goes, police can’t, because of 1) the danger of stray bullets harming people, and 2) the danger of somebody getting hit by a disabled drone crashing to the ground.
Airline sources told the BBC that the disruption could last several days and that as of Thursday, flights had been cancelled until at least 19:00 GMT. Airlines are saying that the disruption will stretch into Friday.
The BBC is providing live updates here.
On Thursday morning, officials from the Department for Transport, Home Office, the police and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat were among a cross-government contingent involved in a meeting about the crisis held at the Prime Minister’s office.
Meanwhile, the Army is reportedly deploying “specialist equipment” to handle the drones.
What that is, we can’t say, though we’ve seen all manner of solutions suggested through the years, be it sound (technically, resonant frequencies used in acoustic weapons), birds of prey, nets shot out of bigger drones, or jamming a drone’s radio to force it to auto-land.
Above all else, whatever technique is used has to avoid having the drone turn into a juggernaut as it loses control, and possibly plummet toward people on the ground.
Our thoughts are with those stranded at Gatwick; we hope you make it to your destinations safely and that holiday joy will eventually be yours.
17 comments on “Drones shut down major international airport”
Once the perpetrator is caught, attach “the book” to a drone, fly it a couple hundred meters straight up, and let the drone throw the book at him (we know it’s a guy; women aren’t this dumb).
PS: the HTTP meta description has a mismatched parenthesis on UAV.
Just curious, Bryan – do you always parse the source code of your NS pages? Is it a hobby of yours? 🙂
Steve, I apologize for having missed your reply–and am uncertain if you’ll ever see mine.**
The article lacked the typo from Naked Security’s main page.So figuring a tag of some sort, I checked the source and learned a nifty tidbit about WordPress web structure.
As I write this, Mark’s article Fighting Emotet: lessons from the front line leads the blog. The (solid) article is described on the main page by a short paragraph, “Emotet is [a] moving, shape-shifting target for admins and their security software. Here’s what we’ve learned from dealing with outbreaks.”
The word “here’s” is not in the published article, but it is in the source–albeit with ' substituting an apostrophe.
Inversely dependent on the potential for embarrassing myself, I can be annoyingly adept at proofreading. Fifteen years ago my boss told me I’d be a good tech writer. It’s never interested me much, but she was right.
Case in point (PS): there’s a missing article from today’s article.
** another suggestion box tick for moderated-reply notifications at NakedSecurity. Please?
I added the “a” to the article excerpt -)
(“Excerpt” is what WordPress calls the summary text that appears on the main page. In our design it is visible when the article is at the very top of the main page but suppressed when the article moves down into second place or below.)
Thanks Duck. It stands to reason themes will commonly use that excerpt for clever and efficient purposes.
I’m more sysadmin than webdev, so I figured I may be leaping.
BTW, we are trying out the WordPress option to “notify me of new comments via email” (you should see a tick box below the comment field) in response to your call for a comment-follow feature!
You guys simply never grow weary of continuing the awesome!
Not sure if you’ll post a survey, but here’s my “thumbs up” for the comment notifications. The test is going well IMO.
Shortly thereafter however, my browser lost its ability to cache my name and email while making comments. I suspect I lack the ability to determine if that’s due to a NS cookie which no longer exists, but I’ll give that change a thumbs down–albeit a whiny, first-world-problems thumbs down.
Remember how fun the internet was to play with back when it first emerged?
The technology and capabilities of some of the consumer grade drones is remarkable already; nevertheless industrial ones – which can be flown for hours, over hundreds of miles, out of the top of a moving van, with God knows what intent.
Anti-UAV will be as common as anti-virus eventually…
Need some police drones like on SouthPark
Not the worst idea (though I can’t say I know anything about SP) – a pair of drones with a net could theoretically capture rogue drones and force them to the ground. Then the drone could easily be picked up by staff or law enforcement
Why haven’t they used electronic countermeasures? Are these drones hardened? Difficult for civilians to get. If it’s a foreign government source can the operator be punished or even identified? Charging doesn’t need a person anymore.
Please don’t follow the usual Media sensationalism… Not proven, Not relevant.
“In the UK, a helicopter crash left five people dead in Leicester City. The cause of that deadly crash hasn’t yet been determined, but aviation experts have suggested that the helicopter’s loss of power to the tail rotor could have been caused by a large bird or a large drone.”
Obviously this is not some usual person or kid messing about. It does feel more like terrorism or interference from a foreign government. But no pictures or video (???). You would have thought something would be published. We need to get the facts before the Media (including Sophos) start labelling drones as ‘the work of the devil’.