Sky News has learned several firms have been summoned to London's leading airport to investigate and discuss the much-publicized drone sightings which forced departure flights to be temporarily grounded January 8, among them a specialist with the technology which can detect, film and track drones, and pinpoint its operator.
Such technology could be installed at any UK airport within 24-hours, providing comprehensive coverage of any site in under a week — effectively a radar system, with the ability to stop devices from flying in a specified zone. Millions are being invested in new security systems at all key UK airports already, and under new rules all private drone devices will have to stay a set distance away from airports, with airport exclusion zones extended from one kilometer to five, with additional restrictions in areas at the end of runways.
The Metropolitan Police deployed "significant resources" to monitor the airport after a drone was first spotted shortly after 17:00 GMT, and the force's Commander Stuart Cundy said officers — along with a number of citizens — saw the device, while "extensive searches" are being carried out to identify the culprit.
"Any deliberate acts to endanger the airfield and aircraft are serious offences that can carry lengthy prison sentences. If flown into the path of an aircraft, a drone has the potential to cause great harm to those on-board. Anyone caught illegally operating drones will be dealt with robustly," Cundy added.
Departures were also temporarily halted, resuming an hour later — the airport fully operational anew by 22:00 GMT. Drone tracking technology, operated by the Royal Air Force, was flown to Heathrow via Chinook helicopter during the period.
As well as this week's disruption at Heathrow, Gatwick Airport was forced to close for 36 hours just prior to Christmas when a drone — or drones — were spotted there on three consecutive days. Authorities are investigating "relevant sightings" from 115 witnesses, including 93 "credible witnesses" such as a pilot, airport staff and police officers. Police have searched 26 potential launch sites near the airport, but have not located the device that disrupted nearly 1,000 flights on 19 and 20 December. The incident impacted the travel plans of over 140,000 people.