Arrests and 'technical glitch' ground Heathrow drone protest

Police make at least 10 arrests while runways and taxiways remain operational despite one toy drone completing flight.

    Heathrow Pause group says it completed one drone flight but that others were not successful [File photo: Luke MacGregor/Reuters]
    Heathrow Pause group says it completed one drone flight but that others were not successful [File photo: Luke MacGregor/Reuters]

    Climate change activists who planned to disrupt Heathrow airport with drone aircraft were frustrated early on Friday as the devices failed to fly and Europe's largest airport continued to operate as usual.

    The Heathrow Pause group aims to ground flights by illegally flying drones within five kilometres (three miles) of an airport, to put pressure on the government to take tougher steps to reduce carbon emissions.

    But the airport said that the attempted action was not affecting flights.

    "There's no disruption," a spokeswoman for Heathrow Airport said. "Runways and taxiways remain operational."

    Police arrested two men at the British airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance in relation to operations at the airport, and have established a dispersal zone around the airport for 48 hours.

    Seven others were arrested on Thursday away from the airport on the same grounds.

    After initial attempts on Friday failed, the campaigners said they successfully launched one drone flight. A man claiming to have piloted that drone has handed himself over to police and was arrested.

    'Technical glitch'

    Heathrow Pause said authorities had used signal jamming to frustrate the early flights, as they posted a livestream of activists near the airport on a Twitter feed.

    "We've got a little technical glitch. The drone isn't flying," an unidentified campaigner says in the video, as another activist holds a drone in the air.

    "Unfortunately at this time I don't have any specific updates what the next steps will be."

    Heathrow Pause opposes the expansion of the airport, whose third runway was approved by legislators last year.

    Earlier this week, police said they were confident Friday's action would not lead to a repeat of the chaos seen at Gatwick last December when drone sightings grounded planes in the run-up to Christmas.

    But they warned that attempted disruption of the airport and flying drones without permission in the exclusion zone were serious crimes.

    Heathrow Pause, a splinter group of the Extinction Rebellion climate movement which disrupted the streets of London earlier this year and which is also behind Friday's action, said it would fly the drones at no higher than head level and say they are not looking to endanger life.

    Heathrow has said the demonstration was counterproductive and criminal, adding that despite talks between the two sides, the campaigners disagreed with the airport's belief that aviation can and should be decarbonised.

    Activists said on Friday the group would hold demonstrations in London from October 7, with the aim of shutting down major roads near Britain's parliament in Westminster.

    "[Extinction Rebellion] will shut down London from 7 October to force their government to #ActNow on the climate and ecological emergency," the group said in a tweet, adding that groups across the world would gather in key cities to rebel.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies