London's Heathrow Airport appears to have worked out how to jam drone signals to stop climate change protesters from shutting down its airspace
- 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.
- Campaign group Heathrow Pause planned to fly drones to disrupt flights on Friday, hoping to draw attention to the environmental impact of flying, but a live stream showed their drones failing to take off.
- The group speculated the airport was "using signal jamming" and said the drones' WiFi was not working. But it said one drones was eventually able to take off, indicating jamming technology may have failed.
- Heathrow and the 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 around 3 a.m. Friday morning, 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 police in London, declined to discuss their methods when contacted by Business Insider.
The group, Heathrow Pause, said it planned to fly their drones within a 5km "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, in the hope of causing severe disruption without endangering any planes.
However, their plan failed to materialise, as seen by video footage showing the group trying in vain to fly their 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 that the signal appeared to be jammed and that the drone's WiFi signal did not work. He said that the group members who experienced the issue and have more information have been arrested.
Based on the group's description, this is different to common software installed in many drones which uses GPS positioning to prevent take-off in known exclusion zones. Drone users have shown this can be bypassed.Harris also told Business Insider that 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 that 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. 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 their protest in advance and met with Metropolitan Police officers to coordinate. 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 is a marked departure from drone-related disruption in late 2018 at London's Gatwick Airport, which was paralyzed for more than 36 hours by sporadic drone sightings near the runway.
In response to that incident, UK airports expanded the "exclusion zone" - an area around an airport where remote-controlled aircraft are not allowed - to five kilometers (thee miles) around the airport. This was the area Heathrow Pause planned to use to fly their drones.
Some of the group's members were arrested before the protests took place. Police said that seven people were arrested on Thursday, in the run up to the protest, and that two more were arrested inside Heathrow's perimeter fence on Friday morning.
Another person was arrested later on Friday.
The group is not formally affiliated with Extinction Rebellion - an international group of climate change activists that has staged protests in cities like London that have disrupted travel - but some of its members are involved with both groups.Harris told Business Insider that the group plans 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, had its busiest-ever day on Wednesday, with 262,000 travelling through the airport. The airport said then in a statement that it is investing in new technology as it expands to "demonstrate our global leadership on sustainable travel."
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