- London’s Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest airport, appears to have worked out how to jam drone signals to stop climate-change protesters from grounding flights.
- The group Heathrow Pause planned to fly drones to disrupt flights on Friday, hoping to draw attention to the environmental impact of flying, but a livestream showed their drones failing to take off.
- The group speculated that the airport was “using signal jamming” and said the drones’ WiFi was not working. But it said one drone was eventually able to take off, indicating jamming technology may have failed.
- Heathrow and London’s Metropolitan Police declined to discuss the incident.
- Heathrow Pause’s plan was to fly the drones only at head height, and far from the airport, in a way that would cause disruption but be unlikely to actually interfere with a plane.
- Ten people this week were arrested over the protests, including two caught inside Heathrow’s perimeter fence. The group is planning to continue with more protests.
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London’s Heathrow Airport appears to have worked out how to jam drone signals to stop climate-change protesters from disrupting its airspace.
Activists from the group Heathrow Pause attempted to fly drones close to the airport at about 3 a.m. on Friday but found when they tried to launch them that most did not work.
They speculated that airport staff used “signal jamming” to stop the drones from working. The airport, and the police in London, declined to discuss their methods when contacted by Business Insider.
— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019
Heathrow Pause said it planned to fly its drones within a 5-kilometre “exclusion zone” around the airport, potentially prompting the airport to shut down as a safety measure.
The group said it wanted to fly the drones only at head height, and relatively far from the runway, with the goal of causing severe disruption without endangering any planes.
The plan failed to materialise, however, as seen by video footage showing the group trying in vain to fly its drones.
One of the group’s members said in the video: “There’s a jamming signal, so basically we can’t get a signal from the remote to the drone.”
Cal Harris, a member of Heathrow Pause, told Business Insider the signal appeared to be jammed and the drone’s WiFi signal did not work. He said the group members who experienced the issue and had more information had been arrested.
Based on the group’s description, this is different from common software installed in many drones that uses GPS to prevent takeoff in known exclusion zones. Drone users have shown this can be bypassed.
Harris also told Business Insider the group was able to make one drone flight in the restricted area – indicating that jamming technology may have stopped working or some other drone malfunction had been fixed.
Neither Heathrow Airport nor London’s Metropolitan Police would comment to Business Insider on any tactics they may have used.
The group said its members acting as pilots would call the police when they were done and await arrest, and other pilots would then take over. One of the group’s members said before the attempt on Friday: “I’m likely to get arrested and I could be going to prison.”
“So why am I doing it? I’m doing it because I’m a father,” the person said. “I’ve got children and I’m thinking about their future. I’d also like to think that I’m doing it for all the children in the world.”
The group announced the protest in advance and met with Metropolitan Police officers to coordinate. The London police’s deputy assistant commissioner, Laurence Taylor, told reporters on Wednesday that he was “very confident” that measures were in place to stop the drone flights.
The incident was a marked departure from drone-related disruption in late 2018 at London’s Gatwick Airport, which was paralysed for more than 36 hours by sporadic drone sightings near the runway.
In response to that incident, UK airports expanded the exclusion zone to 5 kilometers around the airport. This was the area Heathrow Pause planned to use to fly its drones.
Some of the group’s members were arrested before the protests took place. The police said seven people were arrested Thursday in the run-up to the protest and two more were arrested inside Heathrow’s perimeter fence on Friday morning.
— Real Media (@RealMediaGB) September 12, 2019
Another person was arrested later Friday.
— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019
The group is not formally affiliated with Extinction Rebellion, an international group of climate-change activists who have staged protests in cities like London that have disrupted travel, but some of its members are involved with both groups.
Harris told Business Insider the group planned to go ahead with more flights at the airport.
Heathrow confirmed to Business Insider on Friday that no flights were disrupted.
Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, said it had its busiest-ever day on Wednesday, with 262,000 passengers travelling through it. The airport said in a statement that it was investing in new technology as it expanded to “demonstrate our global leadership on sustainable travel.”
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