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London's Gatwick Airport closes again after drones force 33-hour shutdown

Passengers can't catch a break at Gatwick as the unprecedented shutdown continues.

Flights Resume From Gatwick Airport After Drone Activity Halted Christmas Getaway

Police officers watch monitoring equipment on the rooftop of a building as the runway is reopened at London Gatwick Airport on Friday morning. It's been closed again.

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One of the UK's busiest airports reopened briefly and shut down again Friday after suspending or diverting all flights due to drone activity over its airfield.

The disruption at Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London, started around 9 p.m. local time Wednesday after a pair of drones were spotted, according to the BBC. Gatwick is Britain's second busiest airport.

The runway remained closed until 3 a.m. Thursday; then it shut down again 45 minutes later after "a further sighting of drones." It reopened at 6 a.m. Friday, but at 5:47 p.m. Gatwick announced on Twitter that the airport had been shut down once more. 

"Gatwick is investigating reports of a drone sighting. As a precaution we have suspended airfield operations," the airport announced in Friday's latest tweet.

The airport was running on a limited basis earlier on Friday, noting at the time that affected passengers should still expect issues with their scheduled flights.

"A limited number of aircraft are taking off and landing at Gatwick this morning but our departures and arrivals rate is currently very restricted to just a few runway movements every hour so passengers must expect delays and cancellations again today," the airport said in a press release earlier in the day.

"Gatwick continues to strongly advise passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline before travelling to the airport."

More than 50 sightings of drones were reported, impacting 120,000 passengers, Sky News reported.

The person who was operating the disruptive drones hasn't been caught yet, but none have been spotted since late Thursday, the Guardian reported. It was possible the drones' operator was an environmental activist, police said.

Sussex Police suspect that devices are of "industrial specification."

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick's chief operating officer, told the BBC that extra "mitigating measures" from the government and military had given him "confidence to reopen." He estimated that the airport will be "back to normal" by the end of Saturday, but accepted that drones could cause disruption again.

"This is an unprecedented issue. This isn't a Gatwick Airport issue. It's not even a UK issue. It's an international issue," Woodroofe told reporters Friday morning, the Guardian noted.

"What we need to be doing going forward is work with technology providers and with the Government to enhance our ability to address the risk posed by drones to airports."

It's illegal to fly a drone within 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) of an airport or airfield boundary in the UK, and you can't fly one above 120 meters (400 feet) where the likelihood of an aircraft hitting it increases.

In August, Gatwick was forced to post flight information on white boards after its digital screens failed due to an IT glitch.

First published Dec. 20, 2:59 a.m. PT.
Updates, Dec. 21 at 3:19 a.m.:
Notes that Gatwick has reopened; 10:10 a.m.: Notes that the airport has been closed again.

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