Climate change protesters armed with drones fail to shut down Heathrow airport

Two arrested after attempt to fly unmanned aerial vehicle on the airport's perimeter appears to be blocked by signal jammers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 13 September 2019 08:09
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Heathrow operates normally despite drone threat

Two men who attempted to launch a drone at Heathrow have been arrested “within the perimeter of the airport”.

The first wave of arrivals and departures at Heathrow airport operated without incident this morning, despite plans by climate-change protesters to stop flights by flying drones near the runways.

The Metropolitan Police said: “Two men have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance in relation to operations at Heathrow airport.”

The Heathrow Pause group of climate activists, a splinter of the Extinction Rebellion movement, had pledged to shut Britain’s busiest airport down.

The aim was to fly “unmanned aerial vehicles” within the 5km exclusion zone, and force the airport to halt operations.

According to video footage from Heathrow Pause, at least two male activists attempted to launch a drone near the perimeter fence at Heathrow shortly after 3am.

They appear to be on the south side of the airport, but a circuit of the perimeter by The Independent failed to identify any sign of the protesters.

On the video, one man says: “We are very close to Heathrow now, and basically we’ve got a little technical glitch. The drone isn’t flying.

“So we just have to improvise with plan B. Holding the drone at head height. Not drone flying, but drone holding.”

The group blamed the authorities for jamming the signal between the control panel and the drone.

“The police will be happy with this, the passengers will be happy,” the voice on the video is heard saying. “We unfortunately are not so happy.”

The first touchdown of the day, at 4.36am, was Qantas flight 9 from Perth in Western Australia.

The first departure, TAP Portugal to Lisbon, departed as normal shortly after 6am.

No-fly zone: a warning on the perimeter fence at Heathrow

On Thursday, seven members of the group – five men and two women – were arrested by the Metropolitan Police “on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance in relation to operations at Heathrow airport on Friday 13 September”.

They included Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion.

After the arrests, the activists said: “The Heathrow Pause action will carry on exactly as planned, peacefully and non-violently, regardless of today’s events.”

The group said it will continue with the plan later on Friday and over the weekend.

A spokesperson for the airport said: “Heathrow’s runways and taxiways remain open and fully operational despite attempts to disrupt the airport through the illegal use of drones in protest nearby.

“We will continue to work with the authorities to carry out dynamic risk assessment programmes and keep our passengers flying safely on their journeys today.”

The Met imposed a “dispersal order” across a wide area around Heathrow from 4.30am on Friday. It means police can ask any group of two or more people to leave the area if they believe they are likely to cause a nuisance.

The Metropolitan Police said: “The order has been implemented to prevent criminal activity which poses a significant safety and security risk to the airport.”

It is expected to remain in place for 48 hours.

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