Tuesday 16 July 2019

Heathrow Airport temporarily halts flights after reports of drone sighting

Aircraft sit on the tarmac at Heathrow. Photo: REUTERS
Aircraft sit on the tarmac at Heathrow. Photo: REUTERS

Gregory Katz

Flights from London's Heathrow airport were halted for about an hour yesterday after reports of a drone sighting near Europe's busiest air hub, raising fears the chaos that affected rival Gatwick last month could be repeated on an even larger scale.

"We are responding to a drone sighting at Heathrow," the airport said. "As a precautionary measure, we have stopped departures while we investigate. We apologise to passengers for any inconvenience this may cause."

London's Metropolitan Police said they had received reports of a drone near the airport at about 5.05pm, which they were investigating with airport authorities. The airport confirmed about an hour later that take-offs had resumed. Flight tracker websites showed flights departing from 6.11pm.

A Reuters witness in a plane on the runway at Heathrow said multiple aircraft were waiting for permission to take off before being later told that things were starting to move.

London's second busiest airport, Gatwick, was severely disrupted when drones were sighted on three consecutive days in December, resulting in about 1,000 flights being cancelled or diverting and affecting 140,000 passengers.

Gatwick's drone nightmare - the most disruptive yet at a major airport - exposed a new vulnerability that will be scrutinised by security forces, airlines and airport operators across the world.

The British army was forced to deploy military technology to guard the area around Gatwick, reassuring the airport that it was safe enough to fly.

British Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said yesterday the military was preparing to deploy the same equipment at Heathrow "should it prove necessary".

Both airports responded to the Gatwick incident by ordering military-grade anti-drone technology.

Irish Independent

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