Heathrow gets ready for ‘drone protest’ on Friday
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Heathrow airport is recovering after two days of British Airways cancellations due to a pilot strike that grounded the airline worldwide on Monday and Tuesday. And now, the largest airport in Europe by passenger traffic has to prepare for another operational risk on the horizon.
A group of climate activists are planning a demonstration during which they will fly drones within the airport’s five-kilometer (three-mile) exclusion zone. The group, which calls itself Heathrow Pause, is protesting plans for a third runway, which will ultimately increase the airport’s carbon emissions. They’re hoping to cause disruptions to flights throughout the day.
The BBC previously reported that the protestors have vowed to keep their drones out of aircraft’s direct flight paths, fly them at a low altitude (roughly head-height), and begin the protest early in the morning, before the airport’s daily operations really kick into gear.
So, how likely is all this to cause travel woes in London on Friday? Not very, said Kristy Kiernan, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“If they keep to that, below head height, they would be quite difficult to detect anyway from the normal ways we have of detecting,” she said. But, she added, if they expand the scope of their protest or fly the drones farther afield, “there is a potential for tremendous disruption.”
Kiernan’s colleague Ryan Wallace, also an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle, agreed with her assessment.
“The risk is relatively minimal and it sounds like they are purely doing this to get attention more than anything.” But, he added, that doesn’t mean this demonstration is completely safe, either. “For example, what if they lose the data link and the drone flies away? That could introduce new risks that they’re not prepared to deal with.”
In many places, civilian aviation regulators like the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. or the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain do not have the jurisdiction to “mitigate” unmanned aircraft near airports.
“Even if there is a knowledge that there is a drone out there, the limitation is detection only,” Wallace said. In order to get drones out of an airport’s airspace, the airport operators need to coordinate with local law enforcement.
“If the operator isn’t co-located with where the protest is taking place, they’re going to have difficulty tracking them down,” Wallace added.
Heathrow Airport has said it’s working with London’s Met Police to keep airplanes on schedule throughout the demonstration.
Kiernan said that law enforcement officers are likely to have a head start in mitigating any disruptions the protest could cause. The action’s announced 3 a.m. start time, she said, “gives law enforcement ample time to track them down.”
But, she said, the protest could still have broader implications for aviation safety, security and scheduling.
“The greater risk is that this becomes an effective method of protest,” Kiernan said. “The greater concern is that this becomes a tool that disrupts the efficiency of the system.”
Featured photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees