Drone sighting halts flights at UK’s Heathrow Airport

All flights departing Heathrow, the U.K.’s largest airport, have been suspended following a reported drone sighting. An airport spokesperson told TechCrunch that staff are “working closely” with London’s Metropolitan Police, “to prevent any threat to operational safety.” “As a precautionary measure, we have stopped departures while we investigate,” the spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We apologize to […]

All flights departing Heathrow, the U.K.’s largest airport, have been suspended following a reported drone sighting.

An airport spokesperson told TechCrunch that staff are “working closely” with London’s Metropolitan Police, “to prevent any threat to operational safety.”

“As a precautionary measure, we have stopped departures while we investigate,” the spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We apologize to passengers for any inconvenience this may cause.”

The airport did not say who reported the drone.

The Metropolitan Police tweeted that it “received reports of a sighting of a drone” near Heathrow after 5:00pm local time, where commercial drones are programmed to not be allowed to fly, and that it was investigating.

Arriving flights are continuing to land at the airport, however.  Flight tracking site Flightradar24 showed shortly after departures were halted dozens of planes circling around Heathrow.

Flights circling around Heathrow Airport shortly after departures were halted. (Image: Flightradar24)

Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, seeing close to 80 million passengers travel through its terminals last year.

It’s the second reported drone sighting at a U.K. airport in as many months. Gatwick Airport south of London faced two days of disruption following a reported drone sighting just before Christmas. In the end, more than 1,000 flights were cancelled, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded. No arrests were made following the Gatwick incident the since a local couple were released without charge on December 23.

U.K. police were given new powers to fight drones, including an expansion of exclusion zones around airports.

Gatwick said that it had spent £5 million ($6.3m) on new technology to combat drone sightings, according to the BBC. Heathrow also said it would invest in new anti-drone technology.

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates U.K. airspace, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More as it comes in…