Heathrow departures grounded after 'drone sighting'

Written by Sam Trendall on 9 January 2019 in News
News

Flights resumed but law enforcement and airport staff continue to investigate

Credit: PA

Heathrow Airport suspended all departing flights for about an hour following a drone sighting, which airport staff and police continue to investigate.

The airport announced at 5.47pm  on Tuesday (see Tweet below) that all departures were temporarily stopped while “a drone sighting” was investigated. The move was described by Heathrow as “a precautionary measure”.

“[We] are working closely with the Met Police to prevent any threat to operational safety,” it added.

At 6.16pm, the Department for Transport provided a statement from transport secretary Chris Grayling.

"We are in contact with Heathrow Airport concerning the drone sighting," he said. "I have already spoken to both the home secretary (Sajid Javid) and defence secretary (Gavin Williamson) and the military are preparing to deploy [at Heathrow] the equipment used at Gatwick... quickly, should it prove necessary."


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By 6.52pm departures had been resumed, but the airport said that it continues to work with the police and air traffic control professionals to monitor the situation and investigate the previous sightings.

The suspension of flights comes less than three weeks after drones caused three days of chaos at Gatwick Airport. That incident – which is yet to prompt any criminal charges – saw about 1,000 flights into and out of Gatwick diverted or cancelled.

Today’s disruption at Heathrow also comes just a day after the government outlined a range of measures it would implement in the coming weeks and months to try and ensure that airports are better prepared for drone incidents. This includes Home Office plans to test a range of “counter-drone” technologies.

Police will also be given new powers to ground drones, and interrogate, investigate, and, if necessary, punish those who breach regulations.

The ultimately goal of the government measures is to help “prevent a report of incidents such as that recently experienced at Gatwick”.

Heathrow (pictured above) is by far the UK’s busiest airport, with about 1,300 flights arriving at or departing from the airport each day. This compares with about 780 flights at Gatwick, the second busiest airport, and around 560 at Manchester.

An update released by the airport at 7.15am on Wednesday morning said that "Heathrow is operating normally and there are currently no disruptions to flights".

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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