Technical glitch keeps Heathrow climate drones grounded


Climate-change activists hoping to bring Europe’s biggest airport, London Heathrow, to a standstill on Friday found it was their drones that struggled to get off the ground.

Last December, reported drone sightings near London’s Gatwick airport prevented flights leaving and the Heathrow Pause group aimed to cause similar chaos on Friday to pressure government for tougher steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Heathrow said it remained “open and fully operational despite attempts to disrupt the airport through illegal use of drones in protest nearby”.

“We agree with the need for climate change action but illegal protest activity with the intention of disrupting thousands is not the answer,” a spokeswoman said.

A Reuters photographer saw activist James Brown, a blind Irish former Paralympian, arrested. He held a drone aloft rather than trying to fly it and handed himself to police at Terminal 2.

Heathrow Pause completed one flight with a toy drone with other attempts less successful. It posted a live stream of early morning activities near the airport and said its drones suffered signal jamming.

“We’ve got a little technical glitch. The drone isn’t flying,” an unidentified campaigner says in the video, as another holds a drone.

Determined to avoid disruption, police invoked extra powers to move people from the area until Sunday morning.

“The order was implemented to prevent criminal activity which poses a significant safety and security risk to the airport,” they said in a statement.

On Friday five people were arrested in the vicinity of the airport, in addition to seven arrested on Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.

Heathrow Pause is a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion, which blocked streets in central London this year. It said it would fly drones no higher than head height and had no wish to endanger life.

Air travel accounts for just 2.5% of global carbon emissions, but the industry is attempting to reconcile airlines’ growth plans with a pledge to cut carbon emissions.

A study by the International Council on Clean Transportation said in a report the increase in emissions from US airlines was overtaking improvements in fuel efficiency.

Heathrow Pause opposes the expansion of Heathrow, whose proposed third runway was approved by lawmakers last year after decades of delays and policy U-turns.

A spokesman for the group said it did not need to disrupt flights to achieve its goal.

“The real objective was always to trigger a sensible, honest conversation, throughout society on the folly of Heathrow expansion with the ultimate objective of cancelling the third runway,” he said.

“That conversation is now happening.”