Man and woman, arrested over London airport drone chaos, freed without charge
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Man and woman, arrested over London airport drone chaos, freed without charge

Police say pair are no longer suspects in investigation into 3 days of disruption by UAV at Gatwick

Counter drone equipment is deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport in Gatwick, England, December 21, 2018 (John Stillwell/PA via AP)
Counter drone equipment is deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport in Gatwick, England, December 21, 2018 (John Stillwell/PA via AP)

A man and a woman arrested over the drone disruption that brought Christmas getaway flights to a standstill at London’s Gatwick Airport were released without charge on Sunday, police said.

A 47-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman from the town of Crawley, near Britain’s second-busiest airport, were arrested on Saturday.

The police swooped after three days of disruption from Wednesday to Friday, affecting 140,000 passengers.

“Both people have fully co-operated with our enquiries and I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick,” Sussex Police detective chief superintendent Jason Tingley said in a statement.

Passengers wait at Gatwick Airport in England on December 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Drones were sighted buzzing around the airfield more than 50 times, forcing the government to bring in specialist military resources to help counter the threat.

The Daily Mail reported that the British Army used the Israeli-made “Drone Dome” to bring down the UAV after police failed for hours to do so with a commercial anti-drone system.

Six of the systems, which were developed by Israeli defense firm Rafael, were sold to the UK Ministry of Defense in August in an estimated $20 million deal, according to Israel’s Globes financial daily.

According to RADA Electronic Industries, which makes the radars used in the Drone Dome, the system can identify drones from 3-5 kilometers (1.8-3 miles) away using 360-degree detection technology.

A drone that was grounded using Rafael’s ‘Drone Dome’ system. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The Drone Dome can then use its electro-optical sensors to jam the radio frequencies being used by the drone’s operator to control it, making the UAV inoperable and bringing it down in a so-called “soft-kill.”

The system also has a laser that can melt drones, but the Daily Mail said this technology was not purchased by Britain.

The dangers posed by drones include the possibility of a device smashing into a passenger plane or being sucked up into an engine where its highly flammable lithium battery could cause a catastrophe.

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

“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 airport has offered a £50,000 ($63,000, 56,000 euro) reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the disruption.

Under recently-introduced laws in Britain, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometer (about half a mile) of an airport, or at an altitude of over 400 feet (122 meters).

Passengers wait at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 20, 2018 after all flights were grounded due to drones flying over the airfield. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Violators face up to five years in prison for endangering an aircraft.

Gatwick, around 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the British capital, is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world’s busiest single-runway air hub.

On its website, Gatwick said its runway was open and it aimed to run a full schedule over the weekend.

Passengers were warned to expect some delays and cancellations as their airport tried to recover its operations.

“Safety is Gatwick’s top priority and we are grateful for passengers’ continued patience as we work to get them to their final destination in time for Christmas,” the airport said.

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