Drone Sighting Closes Heathrow Airport

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Image: Lewis Clarke - CC BY-SA 2.0

Image: Lewis Clarke - CC BY-SA 2.0

Flights at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) were temporarily suspended due to a drone sighting on Tuesday evening. The closure occurred just three weeks after Gatwick Airport (LGW), which is located about 30 miles south of London, was shut down for approximately 36 hours due to reports of drone activity over the airport. Flights at Heathrow, which is the country’s busiest airport, resumed about an hour after the reported drone sighting.

“Shortly after 17:00 hrs [GMT] today (8 January) we received reports of a sighting of a drone at Heathrow airport,” said London Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy in a statement. “As part of our established response plans to such an incident, officers were swiftly deployed across the airport and we continue to work closely with colleagues from Heathrow Airport Limited.” Cundy also noted that police officers were among those who saw the drone and that a criminal investigation was underway. It has also been reported that the military has been brought in to assist with the situation.

As previously reported on AVweb, last month’s Gatwick drone sightings resulted in nearly 1,000 cancelled flights and affected an estimated 140,000 passengers. A married couple was arrested shortly after the incident, but both were cleared of any involvement. No further arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

Regulatory changes are already in progress due the Gatwick incident. In a statement made yesterday, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, said that in addition to consultations on “further use of counter-drone technology,” new powers would be introduced shortly, “allowing the police to request evidence from drone users where there is reasonable suspicion of an offense being committed, as well as enabling the police to issue fixed penalty notices for minor drone offenses.”

Grayling also said that additional drone restrictions around airports, with a focus on exclusion zones near the ends of runways, would be implemented. U.K. regulations already prohibit the operation of drones within 1 km (0.62 miles) of an airport and require that the drone be in sight of the operator at all times, remain below 122 meters (400 feet) AGL and not fly within 50 meters (164 feet) of people, vehicles or buildings.

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