Gatwick drone chaos cuts expected airport growth for 2018 by 25%

Exclusive: the closure of the runway put a huge dent in passenger numbers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 11 January 2019 16:40 GMT
Government needs to 'up its game' to tackle illegal drone use, says Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick

The drone attack on Gatwick has dented the airport’s performance for 2018 – cutting the expected rise by one-quarter.

Unauthorised drone activity closed the Sussex airport for 33 hours shortly before Christmas, causing around 1,000 flights to be cancelled and wrecking the travel plans of 150,000 passengers.

Gatwick Airport has been growing rapidly over the past few years, but in 2018 the increase in passengers slowed to just 1.1 per cent.

Growth would have been 1.4 per cent were it not for the drone attack.

Gatwick is the busiest single-runway airport in the world. In 2018 it handled 46.1 million passengers, making it second-busiest in Britain.

Its London rival, Heathrow, reached a milestone in 2018, handling 80 million passengers for the first time. The increase of 2.7 per cent on last year was achieved by the use of larger and fuller aircraft.

Heathrow is one of only seven airports in the world to achieve this milestone.

The regions that saw the most passenger growth were Africa and Latin America, up 9.3 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. UK domestic flights declined very slightly.

The airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “We are on track to deliver an expanded Heathrow in the early years of Brexit, which will keep Britain as one of the world’s great trading nations.”

Drone activity was responsible for closing one of Heathrow’s two runways for almost an hour on Tuesday evening, delaying many flights. Police appealed to the public for help in identifying the perpetrators.

Britain’s third-busiest airport, Manchester, saw passenger numbers grow 1.7 per cent to 28.3 million. Manchester Airports Group also includes Stansted, which expanded by 8.2 per cent to 28 million passengers.

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The chief strategy officer, Tim Hawkins, said much of the growth was thanks to the European Union’s single aviation market, adding: “It is vital that UK and EU negotiators commit to agreeing a new ‘open skies’ aviation deal.”

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, flights on UK airlines to the European Union would be capped.

London remains well ahead of every city as world capital of aviation. Once Stansted, Luton, London City and Southend are added to Gatwick and Heathrow, the total passenger numbers for 2018 rise to 175 million.

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