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‘Deliberate act’: Drones shut London Gatwick Airport amid holiday rush

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Thousands of passengers were delayed, diverted or stuck on planes Thursday as the only runway at Britain’s Gatwick Airport remained closed into a second day after drones were spotted over the airfield.

The airport south of London — Britain’s second-busiest by passenger numbers — closed its runway Wednesday evening after two drones were spotted. It reopened briefly at about 3 a.m. Thursday, but shut 45 minutes later after further sightings. 

The airport said all incoming and outgoing flights were suspended and disruptions caused by the drones were expected to continue into Friday. Passengers were advised to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport, where many slept on floors or formed long lines at information desks.

Police said the drone flights were a “deliberate act to disrupt the airport,” but that there were “absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related.”

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, said roughly 110,000 people were due to fly Thursday and the vast majority of them will see cancellations and disruptions. 

Drone sightings persist

At 2:15 p.m. GMT, the airport tweeted that its runway remained closed and all flights were cancelled until at least 4 p.m.

“It is clearly our intention to get open again, but only when it is safe to do so,” Woodroofe told the BBC.

There were 20 police units from two forces searching for the elusive drone operator. Supt. Justin Burtenshaw of Sussex Police said the search was daunting.

“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” he said.

Get an idea of today’s madness at Gatwick Airport:

Burtenshaw said new and bigger drones have more reach, making it harder for police to locate the person controlling the flying device.

“It’s a difficult and challenging thing to locate them, but I’ve got teams now and I’ve got investigators looking at how we do that, and I’m confident we will,” he said.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the military would be deployed to help police. He said the armed forces would bring “unique capabilities” but gave no details.

Passengers wait around in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the airport to halt all incoming and outgoing flights. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Prime Minister Theresa May had earlier said the government was also considering “further police powers” to deal with the threat to aircraft from drones.

Any problem at Gatwick causes a ripple effect throughout Britain and continental Europe, particularly during a holiday period when air traffic control systems are under strain. The airport apologized Thursday on Twitter for the holiday-season delays.

Passengers complained on Twitter that their Gatwick-bound flights had landed at London Heathrow airport or at Manchester, Birmingham and other cities.

One pilot described “flights diverting all over the place to other airports,” on Instagram. “This is why we do not like drones!”

Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, described “freezing” conditions for passengers who spent the night at Gatwick’s South Terminal. Her flight to Kyiv had been cancelled.

“There were pregnant women, one of them was sleeping on the floor. There were people with small babies in here overnight. We saw disabled people on chairs. There were young children sleeping on the floor,” Kyprianou said.

Potential prison sentence for drone offenders

Gatwick, about 45 kilometres south of London, sees more than 43 million passengers a year to short- and long-haul destinations and serves as a major hub for the budget carrier easyJet.

Gatwick normally operates throughout the night but the number of flights is restricted because of noise limitations. The airport website says it usually handles 18 to 20 flights overnight during the winter.

The airport briefly closed its runway last year when a drone was spotted in the area.

Pilots have reported a sharp rise in “airprox” incidents involving drones in Britain in recent years. Pilots or air traffic controllers in the U.K. may file airprox reports when they feel the distance between two aircraft could compromise safety.

So far this year, the U.K. Airprox Board reported 117 incidents involving drones. Just six incidents involving drones were reported in 2014.

U.K. aviation authorities have warned there is a growing risk that a midair collision between drones and planes, which could cause a major disaster.

Under British law, it is illegal to fly drones within one kilometre of an airport boundary. Flying a drone near an airport carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Christopher Lister, whose flight from Kyiv to Gatwick was diverted to Birmingham in central England, said the scale of the disruption was “a little bit scary.”

“We feel grateful it’s not a worse story this morning about an aircraft [that has] come down,” he told the BBC.

Thousands of travellers have been affected by flight cancellations and delays. About 110,000 passengers were originally scheduled to fly through Gatwick on Thursday. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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