Flights into and out of Britain’s Gatwick Airport were halted for hours Thursday after drones were spotted for two days in a row over the airfield, and authorities said tens of thousands of travelers would be affected well into Friday.
“There are 110,000 passengers due to fly today and the vast majority will see cancellation and disruption,” said Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer. More than 750 flights were scheduled to fly into and out of Gatwick Thursday, The Associated Press reported.
Woodroofe didn’t expect the airport to operate smoothly for some time, as the cancelations would be compounded by the rush of the holiday weekend.
“Realistically it’s going to take several days to recover,” Woodroofe said.
European air-navigation agency Eurocontrol announced Thursday afternoon that all flights would be canceled through at least 6 a.m. GMT Friday (1 a.m. ET). Gatwick officials urged travelers not to come to the airport Thursday or Friday without checking the status of their flights.
Gatwick is Britain’s second busiest airport with 46 million people passing through in the past 12 months, compared with Heathrow’s 80 million, according to the airlines.
The airport first closed its runway Wednesday night after two drones were spotted over the airfield. It reopened for less than 45 minutes before closing again at 3:45 a.m. GMT Thursday (10:45 p.m. ET Wednesday) after more drones were spotted, according to airport officials.
“It cannot be right that drones can close a vital part of our national infrastructure in this way,” Wingate said. “This is obviously a relatively new technology and we need to think through together the right solutions to make sure it cannot happen again.”
He said he couldn’t say with certainty when airport service would return to normal.
Katy Day, who lives in Cambridge, was trying to get home to her family in Orlando, Florida, for the holidays. When she got to Gatwick, she couldn’t even check her bags.
“It’s Britain, so it was chaos. But it was a very chilled chaos, a very stiff-upper-lip chaos,” Day said. She was eventually shuttled to Heathrow where she was waiting on Thursday afternoon for a flight to Orlando.
While some travelers already at Gatwick waited, others whose flights were scheduled to land there were diverted to Heathrow and other airports, including in Manchester and Birmingham.
Luke McComiskie, who landed in Manchester, more than 160 miles away from London, told the AP that the situation “was just chaos, and they had only two coaches (buses) and taxis charging people 600 pounds ($760) to get to Gatwick.”
EasyJet, a major airline operating out of Gatwick said they were providing ground transportation, hotel accommodations or reimbursements for people who were diverted away from Gatwick.
As sales of drones have risen, aviation experts have warned that a drone colliding with a plane could have disastrous results.
Flying a drone near an airport could result in up to five years in prison in the U.K.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that the world is underestimating the threat of nuclear war and blamed the U.S. for risking a collapse in global arms controls.
The U.S. is threatening to suspend a Cold War treaty limiting medium-range missiles because it says one of Russia’s weapons violates the agreement.
During his annual marathon news conference Thursday, Putin insisted that Washington was to blame.
“Now they are leaving the treaty on eliminating the short and middle-range missiles,” Putin said referring to the Trump administration. “What’s next? It’s hard to imagine how the situation will evolve. What if those missiles appear in Europe? What do we do then?”
Most experts agree Russia has been violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
However, many of those same analysts have criticized President Donald Trump for walking away from the INF Treaty. They argue that quitting it won’t bring Russia into line, and instead could trigger an arms race with ground-based nuclear missiles returning to Europe for the first time in decades.
On Thursday, Putin also said there “have not been any negotiations” with the U.S. to extend New START, a separate treaty that caps arsenals of intercontinental ballistic missiles and other weapons. It expires in 2021. “Not interested? Don’t need it? Fine,” he said.
And he warned that nuclear war could “lead to extermination of the whole civilization.”
Putin added: “We know how to secure our safety. But, in general, it’s very bad for humanity as it takes us closer to a very dangerous line. It is a very serious question and it is a shame it is being underestimated … We are now witnessing the collapse of the international system of nuclear containment.”
The Russian president also claimed double standards when it came to Sergei Skripal, the former spy allegedly poisoned by Russia on British soil, and Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
“Khashoggi was killed. It is obvious and recognized by everyone. Skripal, thank God, is alive,” Putin said.
“However, there is a flurry of sanctions against Russia and non-stop talk about it still. In the other case, however, there is total silence. Complete silence,” he added. “This is the politicized, Russophobic approach. It is a reason, only just a reason for another attack on Russia.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed a new round of sanctions on Russia in response to its “continued disregard for international norms,” which includes Moscow’s interference in 2016 U.S. election.