Counter drone equipment deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport as the airport and airlines work to clear the backlog of flights delayed by a drone incident earlier in the week, in Crawley, England,  Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018.  London's Gatwick Airport took strides toward running a full schedule Saturday as police questioned a man and a woman in connection with the drone intrusions that caused mayhem for tens of thousands of holiday travelers. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)
Counter drone equipment deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport after disruption last week. AP

Reward offered as hunt for UK airport drone saboteurs goes on

British authorities have offered a £50,000 reward after a couple detained over chaos caused by drone flights over the country’s second largest airport were released without charge.

Police said the couple, named by media as Paul and Elaine Gait, were no longer suspects but not before widespread coverage of their arrests. “Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?” said one front-page story before they were released.

About 1,000 flights were cancelled or diverted at the airport from late Wednesday, affecting the travel plans of some 140,000 people.

Police said they had recovered a damaged drone close to the edge of the airport and were examining it for clues.

The identity and motives of those behind the repeated incursions remained unclear on Sunday, despite the reward offer from the company that runs Gatwick.

Suspicion has fallen on residents concerned about plans to expand the airport, environmental activists or a former Gatwick worker with a grudge.


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Mr Gait, a model-aircraft enthusiast, lives close to the airport but colleagues said he had been at work during the worst of the disruption on Thursday.

Police searched the pair's house as they were held on suspicion of “disrupting services of a civil aviation aerodrome to endanger or likely to endanger safety of operations or persons”.

In a statement on Sunday, Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley, of Sussex police, said the pair, a man aged 47 and a woman, 54, had co-operated with the inquiry. Police do not give names of suspects. "I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick," he said.

“Our inquiry continues at a pace to locate those responsible for the drone incursions, and we continue to actively follow lines of investigation.

“We ask for the public's continued support by reporting anything suspicious, contacting us with any information in relation to the drone incidents at Gatwick.”

The opposition Labour Party has called for an independent inquiry after accusing the government of failing to act on warnings about the danger to flights from drones. In July 2017, a drone led to the closure of a runway at Gatwick for 14 minutes, causing five flights to be diverted.

The UK changed the law this year to make it illegal to fly drones within 1,000 metres of an airport and with height restrictions further out, but airport officials admitted lessons had been learnt from the chaos this week.

"The government was repeatedly warned about the risks posed by drones to aviation but failed to act," said Andy McDonald, the transport spokesman for Labour.

He suggested that the government had taken its eye off the ball while dealing with Brexit.

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