Drones force one of the world’s busiest airports to suspend all flights

One of the world’s busiest airports was forced to suspend or divert all flights on Wednesday night, December 19, over safety concerns when two drones were spotted flying close to the airfield.

The incident, which occurred at Gatwick Airport in southeast England, started just after 9 p.m. local time following “multiple reports” of two remotely controlled multi-rotor copters flying “over the runway,” Chris Woodruff, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, told the BBC.

It took six hours before the air space was deemed safe, but a short time after that, at 3.45 a.m., another sighting forced the airport to once again halt all flights. At 8 a.m. on Thursday the airport was still closed, with up to 40 flights thus far canceled.

Within minutes of the original report on Wednesday night, all of Gatwick’s incoming flights were suspended or diverted while police tried to track down the operators of the rogue drones.

The disruption saw numerous flights diverted to other airports across the U.K. and even to neighboring France, while thousands of outbound passengers at Gatwick were left stuck on planes on the tarmac or waiting inside terminal buildings.

Gatwick — the U.K’s second busiest airport — posted several tweets apologizing for the incident and, with the airport still closed and many planes now out of position, advised anyone flying from the airport to check the status of their flight before leaving home.

A tweet 11 hours after the first drone sighting confirmed that the airport remained closed:

Wednesday night’s incident is the most serious yet where drones have caused disruption to an airport’s operations. Aviation experts fear that the safety of passengers and crew would be put at risk if a drone got sucked into an engine, or collided with another part of the aircraft.

This latest episode is particularly unusual as the reported sightings point to two drones flying near the airport, suggesting two drone pilots were operating together. Similar cases almost always involve a single drone.

Gatwick Airport again

This isn’t the first time that Gatwick Airport has been forced to halt flights because of drone sightings. In an incident in 2017, it suspended operations for a total of 14 minutes, but with so many flights coming in and out of the busy airport, the disruption was widespread and costly. Wednesday’s incident, however, is far more serious in terms of disruption.

The U.K.’s National Air Traffic Services, the country’s main air navigation service provider, released a video that showed the extent of the disturbance caused by the 2017 incident, giving an insight into the sort of challenges air traffic controllers face when rogue drones fly into restricted zones. The video uses computer graphics to visualize the disruption as air traffic controllers work to reroute planes that were scheduled to land at Gatwick.

While most owners of consumer drones fly their machines responsibly, it seems that a small minority are intent on causing trouble at restricted  locations such as airports.

Such incidents have spawned a whole new industry, with a growing number of tech companies developing technology designed to take down rogue drones quickly and efficiently. Gatwick Airport, like any airport around the world, clearly needs an effective solution in place sooner rather than later.

Emerging Tech

Global Good wants to rid the world of deadly diseases with lasers and A.I.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates, aims to eradicate diseases that kill children in developing nations. It tackles difficult problems with high-tech prototypes.
Emerging Tech

Exploding vape pen battery starts fire on SkyWest flight

A vape pen battery caused a fire in an overhead bin on a SkyWest Airlines flight on Wednesday. It's the latest in a string of incidents where faulty or poorly made lithium-ion batteries have caused gadgets to catch fire.

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Emerging Tech

Own a drone? New rule means you have to change the way IDs are displayed

Registered drone owners will need to put their machine's ID number on the outside of the aircraft from February 23 in accordance with a new FAA rule. It means the ID can no longer be placed inside the drone's battery compartment.
Emerging Tech

Forget police helicopters, California cops are using drones to spot suspects

Police drones deployed by California’s Chula Vista Police Department helped lead to the arrest of 20 suspects over a three-month study. It's a glimpse of the future of drones in law enforcement.
Emerging Tech

The 10 most expensive drones that you (a civilian) can buy

OK, these drones may be a bit beyond your budget: Check out the most expensive drones in the world, from industrial giants to highest-end filming tools.
Emerging Tech

A river of stars one billion years old flows across the southern sky

Astronomers have identified a river of stars flowing across our galaxy and covering most of the southern sky. The estimated 4000 stars that comprise the stream were born together and have been moving together for the last one billion years.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.
Emerging Tech

Descending at an angle could be key to landing heavier craft on Mars

Landing on Mars is a challenge: The heavier the craft, the more difficult a safe landing becomes. Scientists propose using retropropulsion engines and angling the craft to create a pressure differential to land heavier crafts in the future.
Emerging Tech

Ant-inspired walking robot navigates without GPS by using polarized light

What do you get if you cross Boston Dynamics and Ant-Man? You get Antbot, a robot from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) which uses ant-like navigation to move around without the aid of GPS.
Emerging Tech

InSight’s heat probe will dig 16 feet beneath the surface of Mars

New images from NASA's InSight mission to Mars have confirmed that the lander succeeded in setting the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument onto the surface, from where a self-hammering spike will burrow downwards.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!