Gatwick Airport has closed for a second night after continued drone sightings over the airfield.
Drone operators have caused major disruption at the airport in a “highly targeted” series of flights, resulting in travel chaos for more than 120,000 people just days before Christmas.
The airport will remain closed for the rest of the evening after drones had been sighted “within the last hour”, its chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said in an update shortly before 10pm on Thursday.
Sussex Police said there had been more than 50 sightings of drones near to the airport since the incident began on Wednesday, though not all have been confirmed.
The army was deployed with “specialist equipment” earlier, however flights remain grounded.
Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley, of Sussex Police, told reporters that policy has changed and shooting down the drone is now an “tactical option” for police.
He added that he could not give a timeline on when the airport was likely to reopen.
Speaking to reporters outside the airport’s South Terminal, he said: “We will do what we can to take that drone out of the sky and remove that disruption so we can get Gatwick back to normal.
“One of the options is to use firearms officers if that presents itself – they have been out on the ground today and that’s a consideration and a tactical option that’s open to us.
“There are a number of factors in terms of range, the height of the drone and the likely impact on us firing at the drone but that is a tactical option open to the gold commander who will make a decision based on the information available to them at the time.”
Mr Woodroofe told passengers not to come to the airport unless they have been advised to do so by their airline.
It comes after the army was earlier called in to assist police in the hunt for the rogue pilots after the perpetrators escaped capture for more than 22 hours.
A spokesman for the airport earlier said the airfield would remain “closed until further notice” as the disruption showed no sign of ending.
Meanwhile Easyjet cancelled all of its flights to and from the West Sussex airport for the rest of the day on Thursday.
The incident led to calls for more action to tackle illegal drone use.
An emergency Whitehall meeting was held in response to the escalating crisis at the UK’s second busiest airport.
Efforts to find the drones and whoever is operating them are becoming more and more desperate as flight cancellations continue to soar.
Some 20 police units attempted to zero in on the drone operator after the first sighting over Gatwick on Wednesday, but police told officials it was too risky to try to shoot down the two drones.
“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” said Sussex Police Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed the military deployment this afternoon.
He said: “We will be deploying the armed forces to give them the help that they need to deal with the situation at Gatwick airport.
“Our armed forces are always there to support the civilian authorities.”
He did not reveal what measures would be deployed but said the army has a “range of unique capabilities
The runway has been closed almost constantly since two drones were spotted being flown inside the West Sussex airport’s perimeter at 9pm on Wednesday.
Police described the devices as “industrial” models and are treating the incident as “a deliberate act to disrupt the airport”.
Prime Minister Theresa May offered sympathies to upset travellers and said police may be given greater powers against drones in the future.
Her spokesman condemned the drone flying as “irresponsible and completely unacceptable”.
Gatwick’s chief executive Stewart Wingate said he is “not in a position to say when it will be safe to reopen the airport”.
But he said that the disruption was a “highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run-up to Christmas”, in a statement apologising to passengers on Thursday.
Mr. Wingate said the airport is still receiving drone sightings in and around the Gatwick airfield.
He added: “It cannot be right that drones can close a vital part of our national infrastructure in this way. This is obviously a relatively new technology and we need to think through together the right solutions to make sure it cannot happen again.”
Some 110,000 people were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights on Thursday. Around 10,000 passengers were affected on Wednesday night.
Disruption is expected to continue into Friday, which is one of the airport’s busiest days of the year because of the Christmas getaway.
On Thursday, an Easyjet spokesperson said: “We are making every effort to get people to their destination at this important time of the year, but following reports of drones flying over Gatwick Airport, the runway remains closed and all flights are currently suspended.”
The airline said it expected disruption to continue into Friday and is advising passengers to check the status of their flight.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said “this is quite clearly a deliberate act” as he said the perpetrators must know they are breaking the law.
SOURCE; standard.co.uk sed0 \lsdpriori