Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Nine arrested as police thwart climate activists' drone bid to close UK's busiest airport

Climate protesters had planned to use drones to close Heathrow Airport in London

Climate change protesters planned to disrupt Heathrow Airport through a number of actions involving illegal drone flights but appear to have been stopped through pre-emptive arrests by the police, and the possible use of jamming technology. Getty Images
Climate change protesters planned to disrupt Heathrow Airport through a number of actions involving illegal drone flights but appear to have been stopped through pre-emptive arrests by the police, and the possible use of jamming technology. Getty Images

Police have arrested nine people over plans by climate activists to use drones to close Europe's busiest airport.

Campaigners had hoped to cause travel disruption to thousands of passengers by flying drones to force the airport to suspend flights.

On Friday police imposed a security cordon around Heathrow Airport and made nine arrests to thwart climate activists' efforts to shut it down.

Campaigners from Heathrow Pause -- an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion group -- had hoped to use toy drones to cause disruption but their first miniature device failed to take flight after receiving no signal from its hand-held remote control.

"They are jamming -- we can't get the signal," one campaigner said in a video posted on social media from what appeared to be the airport's outer edge.

"The passengers will be happy. We are not happy."

A London police spokesman refused to confirm or deny the use of jamming devices.

"We do not discuss security tactics," the spokesman said.

Officials said a "dispersal order" had been imposed under a criminal statute act covering "anti-social behaviour" in areas surrounding the airport's vast grounds and is due to last through to Sunday morning.

The campaigners' official aim is to prevent construction of a third Heathrow runway and to cut harmful gas emissions to a net level of zero by 2025.

Yet their chosen means of protest also points to the hazards drones of any size pose to airports long term.

Heathrow rules stipulate that it must temporarily close should a drone be spotted within its five-kilometre (three-mile) exclusion zone.

It was expected to make exceptions should this only involve miniature drones flying close to the ground and away from runways or flight paths -- the rules Heathrow Pause intends to keep.

The group's members have met airport representatives and the London police to arrange precautionary measures aimed at avoiding accidents.

They had hoped to fly the drones at head height at hourly intervals that could keep the airport closed continuously for up to five days.

A Heathrow spokeswoman said on Friday that the airport remained "strongly committed" to addressing climate concerns.

"We agree with the need for climate change action but illegal protest activity designed with the intention of disrupting thousands of people is not the answer," she said.

London police announced the arrest of five men and three women on Thursday and Friday "on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance".

One of those arrested was the co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion activist group, Roger Hallam.

On Friday morning two men were arrested on public land outside of the perimeter of Heathrow Airport.

Updated: September 17, 2019 04:42 PM

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