People with “detailed knowledge” of Gatwick used two drones to shut down the airport for 30 hours, according to a police report.
A total of 1,000 flights were disrupted, affecting more than 140,000 passengers, during the three-day incident that began shortly after 9pm on 19 December last year.
Sussex police received 129 sightings of drone activity, with 109 of these from “credible” witnesses including a pilot, plus workers and police at the airport.
Two individuals were arrested out of the 96 people of interest identified by officers, who carried out 1,200 house-to-house inquiries and took 222 witness statements in a police operation costing £790,000. They were later released with no further action to be taken.
A Sussex police spokesman said: “The incident was not deemed terror related and there is no evidence to suggest it was either state sponsored, campaign or interest-group led. No further arrests have been made.
“Through corroborated witness statements, it is established that at least two drones were in operation during this period, and the offender, or multiple offenders, had detailed knowledge of the airport.
“Witness statements show activity happened in ‘groupings’ across the three days on 12 separate occasions, varying in length from between seven and 45 minutes. On six of these occasions, witnesses clearly saw two drones operating simultaneously.”
Dave Miller, an assistant chief constable and the force’s head of operations command, said: “This was a serious and deliberate criminal act designed to endanger airport operations and the safety of the travelling public.
“A drone strike can cause significant damage to an aircraft in flight and it is important to emphasise that public safety was always at the forefront of our response. No aircraft was damaged or passenger injured.
“This was an unprecedented set of circumstances for all agencies involved at a time when the police and the government were at the early stages of assessing domestic counter-drone technology.
“Equipment was quickly installed using both military and private assets to bring it to a conclusion and allow the airport to reopen. Measures now available have strengthened our capability to respond to and investigate a similar incident in the future.”
Miller said there were no further realistic lines of inquiry relating to the incident.
The operation required resources from seven police forces as well as national expertise.
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