The suspect behind the Gatwick Airport drone mayhem is likely to be an organised expert or hacker rather than a ‘hobbyist’, experts have said.
Police are still hunting the person flying the unmanned aircraft, more than 24 hours after the runway was initially closed.
Officers do not believe the attack is terror-related but there are suspicions the culprit could be an ‘eco-warrior’.
Some 350,000 people face having their Christmas plans ruined as Gatwick said the airport would remain closed tonight and could be shut for all of Friday as well.
Passengers are forced to sleep in departure lounges at Gatwick Airport today after the drone was spotted more than 50 times over the runway in West Sussex
What should you do if you have a flight from Gatwick Airport?
If you are due to fly from or to Gatwick:
- Do not travel to the airport before checking your flight status
- Call your airline and check Gatwick’s website for updates
If your flight is already cancelled:
- Talk to your airline to arrange an alternative flight – avoid rebooking it yourself if possible
- If you make any other arrangements, or have to pay for accommodation or transport, keep all receipts and tickets
- Check with your insurer or credit card provider whether you are covered
Drone expert Carys Kaiser told MailOnline: ‘It’s definitely not a hobbyist who’s thinking I’ll get some extra footage from a YouTube channel.
‘It is definitely something that is more organised in some capacity because obviously the drones that I fly and the drones that most people fly in the UK have this geofencing and we can’t get them to take off that close to an airport.
‘So this is somebody that has possibly hacked their software or possibly modified their drone in some way.
‘[The manufacturers] have all developed this software to ensure that people can’t just take a drone near an airport and take off.
‘You get lock zones, so you’ll get a yellow zone that could be a stately home or a football ground – it will say to you do you have permission, and you have to put in details and the manufacturer knows who it is, and if there was an incident they could trace it.
‘When you get an airport that’s a red zone, and you can’t unlock it unless you get written permission from an airport. You have to submit documentation, wait for five days and then you get an unlock code so you can fly.
‘As with anything that’s malicious, people will hack the software, modify the drones to get around all of that. If you’ve got malicious intent, you’ve got a malicious mind, you don’t abide by the rules.’
A former Army captain told The Sun that the attacker had showed ‘some serious capability’ and could be a ‘genius’ with a PhD.
Richard Gill said: ‘Perhaps we are dealing with a person who just wants to do it to show how clever they are.
‘He or she is just causing hell because they can and they want to test their limits. It’s the thrill of getting away with it.’
No person or group has yet claimed responsibility for the sabotage, but officials are said to be working on the theory the saboteur could be an ‘eco-warrior’.
A Whitehall source told the Daily Telegraph that an eco-protest was a ‘definite line of inquiry’.
Environmental activist groups have previously targeted airports, in particular to protest the proposed expansion of Heathrow.
When asked why someone would want to disrupt the airport, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘There’s no sense of motive – there’s no suggestion that this is a terrorist act.
‘The counter-terrorist police have been very clear that they’ve seen no evidence that this is intended to be a terrorist act. It’s clearly someone who wants to disrupt Gatwick Airport and there’s an intense police operation.
Police are still hunting the person flying the unmanned aircraft (pictured), more than 24 hours after the runway was initially closed, but do not believe the sabotage is terror-related
‘We’ve got two police forces in Surrey and Sussex working together to try and catch the perpetrator, supported by the Met, supported by the counter-terrorism police and no evidence of a terrorist link at the moment.’
Sussex Police also said that ‘our assessment, based upon the information that we have available to us, is that this incident is not terrorism-related’.
The runway has been closed almost constantly since two drones were spotted being flown inside Gatwick’s perimeter at 9pm on Wednesday.
It was reopened at 3am on Thursday but was closed 45 minutes later after the drones re-emerged.
Chris Woodroofe said 120,000 passengers’ flights had been disrupted and the drone that has plagued the airport since Wednesday evening is still in the air.
Night-flight restrictions will be lifted at other airports – probably those which serve London – so that ‘more planes can get in to and out of the country’, Mr Grayling said.
‘Apologies for the residents affected, but it’s right and proper that we try and sort people’s Christmases out,’ he said.