LONDON • Flights from London's Heathrow airport were halted for about an hour on Tuesday after a drone was sighted near Europe's busiest air hub, raising fears that the chaos that affected rival Gatwick last month could be repeated on an even larger scale.
"We are responding to a drone sighting at Heathrow," the airport said. "As a precautionary measure, we have stopped departures while we investigate. We apologise to passengers for any inconvenience this may cause."
London's Metropolitan Police said they had received reports of a drone near the airport at about 1705 GMT on Tuesday (1.05 am yesterday, Singapore time) which they were investigating with the airport authorities. It said police officers were among those who reported seeing a drone and it had launched a criminal investigation.
The airport confirmed about an hour later that take-offs had resumed. Flight tracker websites showed flights departing from 1811 GMT. A Reuters witness in a plane on the runway at Heathrow said multiple aircraft were waiting for permission to take off before being later told that things were starting to move.
London's second-busiest airport, Gatwick, was severely disrupted when drones were sighted on three consecutive days last month, resulting in about 1,000 flights being cancelled or diverted and affecting 140,000 passengers.
London's Metropolitan Police said military assistance had been provided to help it deal with the incident at Heathrow.
Police said they were carrying out extensive searches around the Heathrow area to identify any people who may be responsible for the operation of the drone.
"We are deploying significant resources - both in terms of officers and equipment - to monitor the airspace around Heathrow and to quickly detect and disrupt any illegal drone activity, some of which are as a result of learning from the incidents at Gatwick," police commander Stuart Cundy said.
Airport operators need to do more to counter the illegal use of drones, Prime Minister Theresa May's de facto deputy said yesterday. Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said the government would consider toughening laws that ban the use of drones near airports, but operators could also invest more in protection systems.
Gatwick Airport said it had upgraded its systems, while Heathrow said it was working with the authorities to keep the airport secure.