A passenger aircraft prepares to land at London Heathrow Airport in London, the UK. Picture: AFP/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
A passenger aircraft prepares to land at London Heathrow Airport in London, the UK. Picture: AFP/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

Paris — London’s Heathrow airport has deployed a system designed to block drones entering its airspace following a string of recent incidents that threatened Europe’s busiest travel hub.

The airport, classified as a flight restriction zone by authorities, is now using a product manufactured by France’s Thales to detect and identify drones. On Tuesday, the French company declined to detail the contract’s value or the precise specification being used at Heathrow.

Illegal drones are a growing problem for airports, utilities and factories. While their use is often meant to be disruptive — when used, for example, by activists — or for surveillance, they have recently been used in destructive attacks in Saudi Arabia. Companies such as Thales have sought to increase their use beyond military solutions to seize market opportunities.

Heathrow chose a holographic radar system developed by Aveillant, a Cambridge, England company acquired by Thales in 2017. Its technology is now part of the French defence contractor’s anti-drone solution, EagleShield.

The radar system is also used at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport. It can detect drones as far as 5km away in all directions, according to Aveillant’s website. Appropriate countermeasures can then be deployed.

Representatives for Thales wouldn’t say what Heathrow planned to use as a countermeasure, but said drone-disabling technology was not part of its contract with the airport. A spokesperson for Heathrow declined to comment.

Away from transit hubs, common solutions include the use of radio waves to jam the signal used by a pilot to control a drone, or take over control of the unit. Other methods include dispatching eagles or giant nets to pull craft out of the sky.

In September, police in London arrested two people outside the perimeter of Heathrow after climate protesters attempted to close it with illegal drone flights. Campaigners said at least one craft was successfully launched, though departures and arrivals did continue.

In December 2018, flights at Gatwick airport were halted for more than a 24 hours during pre-Christmas high-season following reports of drone sightings close to its runway.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.