Gatwick’s runway will remain closed until at least 1900 tonight after drone sightings forced the airport to ground all flights.

The shut-down began last night at around 2100 after two drones were seen flying over the airfield. The airport briefly re-opened at 0301, but was forced to shut again at 0345. Another device was spotted nearby the airport just before 0700 this morning, according to the BBC.

Another sighting occurred at around lunch time today, pushing back the estimate for when the runway could re-open.

The matter was handed over to Sussex Police, who are working with the airport to try to track down the drones’ operators.

Reports now say assistance has been requested from the Ministry of Defence.

It is illegal to fly drones within 1km of any airport or airfield boundary, as is flying the devices above 400 feet. If the pilots are tracked down by police, they could face a prison sentence of up to five years.

According to reports, about 10,000 passengers have been affected as Gatwick enters the busy Christmas get-away period. Flights are being diverted to other airports, with arrivals and departures suspended.

The BBC says some reports claim flights were diverted as far away as Cardiff, Paris and Amsterdam, while others landed at Heathrow, Luton and Manchester.

Some passengers have said on social media that they were stuck onboard aircraft for hours without information from cabin crew.

Gatwick says affected airlines are working to provide passengers with accommodation and to transport those landing at other airports back to Gatwick.

Travellers due to fly from Gatwick today are advised not to travel to the airport until further notice.

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