A man and a woman have been arrested in connection with the “criminal use of drones” which has caused widespread disruption to flights at Gatwick airport, police have said.
In a statement released in the early hours of Saturday, Sussex police said the arrests were made in Gatwick area just after 10pm on Friday night.
Gatwick airport said on Saturday morning that it was open for flights but urged passengers to check with their airline before travelling.
“Our runway is open and we aim to run a full schedule – 757 flights scheduled today, carrying 124,484 passengers,” a spokesman said.
“Safety is Gatwick’s top priority and we are grateful for passengers’ continued patience as we work to get them to their final destination in time for Christmas.”
The airport was plunged into chaos on Wednesday night when drones spotted hovering near the runway forced hundreds of flights to be cancelled, delaying and stranding thousands of passengers.
Police and military experts were deployed to search for the operators of the drones, which reappeared near the airport every time the authorities tried to reopen the runways.
Airlines scrambled to board passengers while the airport was reopened on Friday. But it was closed again on Friday afternoon when the drones reappeared. Military measures reassured operators that it was safe to reopen the runway shortly afterwards.
Superintendent James Collis said: “Our investigations are still ongoing, and our activities at the airport continue to build resilience to detect and mitigate further incursions from drones by deploying a range of tactics.
“We continue to urge the public, passengers and the wider community around Gatwick to be vigilant and support us by contacting us immediately if they believe they have any information that can help us in bringing those responsible to justice.
“The arrests we have made this evening are a result of our determination to keep the public safe from harm, every line of inquiry will remain open to us until we are confident that we have mitigated further threats to the safety of passengers.”
Anyone with information was asked to call police on 101.
A range of tactics have been used to combat the drones but few details have been released. One piece of equipment believed to have been deployed at the airport is the Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, which can detect drones using radar. It can also jam communications between the drone and its operator, enabling authorities to take control of and land the drone.
Speaking on Friday, Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said the drone flights were “highly targeted” and have “been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas”.
He added: “These events obviously highlight a wider strategic challenge for aviation in this country which we need to address together with speed – the aviation industry, government and all the other relevant authorities.
“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.”
A Gatwick spokesman said around 1,000 aircraft had been cancelled or diverted, affecting approximately 140,000 passengers, since Wednesday night.
A handful of flights due to arrive into Gatwick on Saturday have been cancelled, according to the airport’s website, including an easyJet service from Milan-Linate and a TUI flight from Bridgetown, Barbados.
The arrests could bring relief for passengers angry at the ongoing disruption on Friday.
One woman due to fly to Sicily on Thursday said she was considering renting a car and driving there after her second flight in two days was cancelled following the fresh sighting.
Laura Cammarata, 27, who lives in London, was due to travel to the island with her partner for Christmas. She said she was frustrated after their flight rescheduled from Thursday to Friday was cancelled.
Cammarata said: “We did the whole process again, we got the train, we started queuing up and at some point they said it’s cancelled again.
“We’re trying to re-book and they’re saying they can’t book us on.”
Her partner Giuseppe Alia, 28, also from London, said: “They should have some contingency to get people to other airports, I understand it’s not their fault but they should force airlines to collaborate in this situation.”
Mike, from London, had his flight cancelled on Friday and will miss his connection to Ghana. “We’re in limbo. We don’t actually know when we’ll be flying out at all because we haven’t been promised a rescheduled flight, we haven’t been promised any further information, any compensation. Nothing at all.”
The government on Friday denied accusations that it had been slow to combat the threat from drones, and had delayed plans to introduce laws to regulate their use.
Shadow transport spokesman Andy McDonald said the government had been too slow to act, despite growing concern over increasing numbers of near misses between drones and manned airports.
The Times reported that transport secretary Chris Grayling had shelved plans to introduce legislation amid pressure on his department, with civil servants being diverted to prepare for Brexit.
But a department for transport spokesman said the claims were “totally inaccurate”.