Drone sighting halts Heathrow flights

Written by Hannah McGrath

Flights at Heathrow airport were suspended for an hour yesterday evening as police responded to reports of a potential drone sighting above the runway, less than a month after drone sightings caused Christmas travel chaos at Gatwick airport.

Flights were grounded for approximately half an hour and the military was called in to assist after police investigated reports of a device flying above the airport.

Last month a similar incident resulted in the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights as Gatwick ground to a halt over a 36 hour-period starting on 23 December. Police have yet to confirm whether the suspects have been found.

A statement from Heathrow airport said: “We are responding to a drone sighting at Heathrow and are working closely with the Met Police to prevent any threat to operational safety.

"As a precautionary measure, we have stopped departures while we investigate. We apologise to passengers for any inconvenience this may cause."

The incident has raised questions over how a drone was able to approach Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, after the risk of serious flight disruption was illustrated just weeks ago.

MPs and campaigners have complained about emergency response times, but the Metropolitan police and the government confirmed they are deploying military-grade anti-drone equipment to deal with such activity.

Yesterday, transport secretary Chris Grayling announced the government was extending its drone exclusion zone around airports and prisons from one to five kilometres and said police would be given new powers to combat illegal drone use.

Owners of commercial weight drones will also be required to take an online competency test before joining a register of licensed owners in the UK.