by Jamie Johnson, The Telegraph, April 15, 2019
The drone attack on Gatwick airport was an inside job carried out by someone who had a link into what was going on at the airport, says its chief.
In his first interview since the chaotic episode in December last year, Gatwick's chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe said that the drone's pilot "seemed to be able to see what was happening on the runway" and that the vehicle was specially designed to avoid detection.
Mr Woodroofe, who was the “gold commander” in charge of the airport’s response to the sustained attack, told BBC’s Panorama that the pilot may even have been “following the airport's actions by eavesdropping on radio or internet communications.”
More than 140,000 passengers were affected by the 33-hour shutdown of Britain's second busiest airport, with around 1,000 flights delayed or cancelled between December 19 and 21.
Despite nearly 70 drone sightings reported in the space of a few hours, no photographic evidence exists that shows a drone above the airfield. This fuelled speculation that there may never have been one, but this was vehemently denied by the airport chief.
Mr Woodroofe told the BBC that many of the drone sightings were by people he knew personally and trusted - "members of my team, people I have worked with for a decade, people who have worked for thirty years on the airfield, who fully understand the implications of reporting a drone sighting".
"They knew they'd seen a drone. I know they saw a drone. We appropriately closed the airport."
At least one person noted the characteristic cross shape while others described it as "industrial or commercial" and "not something you could pop into Argos for", an airport spokesperson said.
Whoever was responsible for the attack had "specifically selected" a drone which could not be seen by the DJI Aeroscope drone detection system that the airport was testing at the time, he added.
Sussex Police told Panorama the possibility an "insider" was involved was a "credible line" of inquiry and that its investigation is ongoing and expected to take "some months to complete".
Mr Woodroofe also denied that his team overreacted by shutting down the airport for so long, causing so much travel disruption.
"There is absolutely nothing that I would do differently when I look back at the incident, because ultimately, my number one priority has to be to maintain the safety of our passengers, and that's what we did,” he said.
"It was terrible that 140,000 people's journeys were disrupted - but everyone was safe."
Gatwick has now improved its anti-drone systems, installing new equipment designed to spot the vehicles much quicker.
"We would know the drone was arriving on site and we'd know where that drone had come from, where it was going to, and we'd have a much better chance of catching the perpetrator," he said.
Mr Woodroofe added that the airport now sends up a drone every day to test the detection equipment, and "it finds that drone".
But he added: "What this incident has demonstrated is that a drone operator with malicious intent can cause serious disruption to airport operations.
"And it's clear that disruption could be carried over into other industries and other environments."
Panorama, The Gatwick Drone Attack, will be shown on BBC One at 20:30 BST on Monday 15 April