London Heathrow Airport has resumed operations after suspending all flight departures due to reports of a drone sighting Tuesday late afternoon, becoming the second UK airport in a month’s time to see its operations disrupted by the threat of a small unmanned aircraft. UK Metropolitan Police received the reports of the drone sighting at about 5:05 p.m. local time, at which point the airport stopped departures “as a precautionary measure.”
The possible drone sighting follows the pre-Christmas shutdown of Gatwick airport due to reported drone sightings and comes just one day after the UK transport secretary Chris Grayling revealed a set of new measures to ensure adequate protection of the country’s national infrastructure, including airports. The disruption caused by drones to flights at Gatwick in December, he said, “was deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal.”
As part of the proposed measures, the UK will introduce larger drone restriction zones around airport boundaries, give the police more powers against lawbreaking operators, and explore and deploy technology to detect, track, and potentially disrupt illegally used drones.
The drone exclusion zone around airports will extend to about five kilometers (three miles) from one kilometer now, while authorities put in place additional extensions at runway ends to better protect aircraft landing and taking off as well as other low-flying aircraft, such as helicopters. The new zone will apply to all small drones weighing more than 250 grams. Commercial drone operators will continue to be able to apply for permission from air traffic control to fly within the zone to inspect aircraft for MRO purposes, for example.
Aviation minister Lizz Sugg said the transport department worked with the CAA and air navigation service provider NATS to develop the optimum exclusion zone. She acknowledged that increasing the restriction zone would not prevent a deliberate incident while stressing the importance of taking proportional measures to help protect aircraft, while minimizing restrictions to legitimate drone activity.
The proposed measures come in response to a consultation on the UK’s future policy on drones, which took place last year, before December’s disruption at Gatwick.