Heathrow Airport Drone Sighting Being Investigated by British Police and Military

A rogue drone encroached on Heathrow Airport airspace on Tuesday, resulting in an intended $6.4 million investment in counter-drone technology.

Yui Mok via Getty Images

Recent illegal drone activity at Heathrow Airport has led to the military helping local police with a “full criminal investigation” into the incident, the BBC reports

On the heels of England’s most paralyzing drone disturbance at Gatwick Airport last month, which had planes grounded for over 20 hours and continued to disrupt regular service the following day, Heathrow's incident lasted a mere hour. Despite the comparatively small disturbance, incursions on critical infrastructures are a received as serious matters, particularly on those serving as a hub for countless aerial vehicles. As such, Heathrow Airport officials, Scotland Yard, the military, and Met Police have joined together to investigate. 

According to Met Commander Stuart Cundy, the drone sighting was reported at 5 p.m. GMT and subsequently led to departing flights staying on the tarmac. 

“We are carrying out extensive searches around the Heathrow area to identify any people who may be responsible for the operation of the drone,” said Cundy. “The illegal operation of drones at an airfield is extremely dangerous.”

To Cundy’s point, the United Kingdom has fairly comparable commercial drone laws to the United States, which staunchly prohibit use at airports and other critical infrastructures. The U.K. prohibits drone use within a kilometer (.62 miles) of an airport or airfield, beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS), higher than 400 feet, or within 50 meters (164 feet) of people, vehicles, or buildings. 

As a drone-savvy cameraman for the BBC, Martin Roberts was quickly able to identify the vehicle as a UAV, even while busy driving on the M25 motorway during the sighting at 5:45 p.m. 

“I could see, I’d say around 300 feet up, very bright, stationary flashing red and green lights, over the Harmondsworth area,” he said. “I could tell it was a drone—these things have good quite distinctive lights —not a helicopter.” 

Gatwick last week announced a $6.4 million (£5 million) expenditure to prevent future unwarranted aerial encroachments on its airspace, with Heathrow joining the fray and confirming it would purchase counter-drone systems in the near future as well.

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