/Heathrow Airport arrivals diverted due to unplanned use of airspace by RAF

Heathrow Airport arrivals diverted due to unplanned use of airspace by RAF

Dozens of flights to Heathrow were delayed or forced to divert while Britain’s busiest airport suddenly closed its airspace for an RAF plane.

The RAF use of the airspace was “unplanned” – lasting less than half an hour – and it involved an aircraft from RAF Northolt, about six miles north of Heathrow, in west London.

Passengers said the pilots on their flights announced that the situation was caused by a “security incident”.

A number of planes were forced to divert because they were running low on fuel – with one pilot telling passengers they had about “five to ten minutes’ fuel left” – while other aircraft circled for about an hour while they were prevented from landing.

At least five British Airways planes and one Virgin Atlantic flight diverted to other airports while aircraft were “stacked” in the skies around Greater London waiting for clearance to land.

Were you on one of the flights? Email webnews@mirror.co.uk.

At least five British Airways flights diverted to other airports
(Image: FlightRadar24)

A Heathrow spokesperson told Mirror Online the RAF use of airspace was “unplanned”.

The spokesperson added: “Arrivals were paused briefly this morning due to an RAF request for an operational flight within part of Heathrow’s airspace.

“Arrivals are now operating as normal.”

The RAF said: “The RAF can confirm that a flight was completed this morning by one of our assets from RAF Northolt, this flight was coordinated with Heathrow ATC but had to extend by a few minutes to complete its sortie.

“The minor delays caused to civilian air traffic are regretted.”

British Airways flights on the tarmac at Heathrow (file photo)
(Image: Getty Images)

The RAF declined to explain the reason for the flight and the type of military aircraft involved.

For security reasons, the RAF needs to be able to operate in all airspace at all times.

Passengers and air crew told how flights had to wait for clearance to land or divert to other airports, including Stansted in Essex, Luton in Bedfordshire and Gatwick in West Sussex, as the situation unfolded at about 9am on Friday.

British TV producer Anne Henry was on a Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles that diverted to Gatwick shortly before it was due to land at Heathrow.

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She told Mirror Online: “It was quite alarming when the captain announced after circling Heathrow for a while, ‘Ladies and gentlemen we have about five to ten minutes’ fuel left so we may need to divert to Gatwick’.

“We’ve been on the ground for about an hour but we’re not allowed to get off.

“The official line from the pilot on the tannoy has been ‘security incident’. Tough for the crew as they’ve only had one or two hours of sleep and have to keep going.”

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner refuelled and later made the short journey to Heathrow, where it landed almost three hours late and passengers were handed a letter apologising for a “security incident … which prevented us from landing there [at Heathrow] as scheduled”.

Swedish holidaymaker Sebban Jangebring Burell was on BA flight 771 from Stockholm that was forced to divert to Stansted.

Arrivals were suspended at Heathrow for less than half an hour
(Image: flightradar24.com)

He said: “We were really late from Stockholm also but when we got closer to London they said that no planes were landing or taking off from Heathrow, so we got diverted to Stansted.

“At first they said that it was two options – refuel and get back to Heathrow or bus from Stansted.

“After 20 minutes on the ground with almost no information, except that they were investigating the issue, they said that people with hand luggage could get off and make their way from Stansted on their own.

“Those with normal bags can’t get off and need to wait an hour and 30 minutes until take-off for Heathrow.

“Me and my friend decided to get off the plane and make our way into London by train.”

A passenger wrote on Twitter: “Captain said Heathrow is closed for arrivals for a ‘security incident’ but nothing in the news. What’s going on?”

A second added: “I’m on one of the few planes that were now cleared for landing”

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“Our pilot just informed us that they’re restricting arrivals to allow a plane with a security incident on board to land.”

An Airbus pilot tweeted: “Nothing like counting how much fuel you have left to the minute… but made it back to Heathrow, phew! What’s going on @HeathrowAirport!?”

A British Airways spokesperson said: “Like other airlines a small number of flights were affected by the temporary air traffic control reduction in the number of aircraft arriving at the airport this morning.

“Less than a handful of flights were diverted as a result, and continued to Heathrow shortly afterwards. We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but this is clearly a matter beyond all airlines’ control.”

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “Our VS8 flight from Los Angeles to London Heathrow has diverted to Gatwick due to a brief closure of airspace over London Heathrow.

“The safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority, we’re now doing all we can to get our customers to their final destination as quickly as possible.

“We’d like to apologise to our customers for the disruption to their journey and thank them for their patience.”

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