Heathrow: Arrivals suspended due to 'unplanned' RAF flight

17 January 2020, 22:09

The RAF said it "regretted" the delays caused to commercial flights
The RAF said it "regretted" the delays caused to commercial flights. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Dozens of planes arriving at Heathrow Airport were diverted or delayed due to an "unplanned" RAF flight this morning.

At least one Virgin Atlantic flight and four British Airways aircraft were prevented from landing at the west London hub.

The Heathrow-bound flights were forced to land at other airports around the capital including Gatwick, Luton and Stansted.

British TV producer Anne Henry told The Mirror that her Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles was rerouted to Gatwick because they had almost run out of fuel.

"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," she told Mirror Online.

Aircraft were forced to stack up around Heathrow
Aircraft were forced to stack up around Heathrow. Picture: PA

"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 RAF said it "regretted" the delays to commercial flights, which began at around 9am on Friday and lasted for about 20 minutes.

A Heathrow spokesman said the RAF request for the closure of airspace was "unplanned."

Other aircraft were forced to stack up around London for up to an hour as they waited for permission to land.

Planes were delayed due to a flight from RAF Northolt
Planes were delayed due to a flight from RAF Northolt. Picture: PA

The Heathrow spokesman said: "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."

An RAF spokesman added: "The RAF can confirm that a flight was completed this morning by one of our assets from RAF Northolt.

"This flight was co-ordinated with Heathrow ATC (air traffic control) but had to extend by a few minutes to complete its sortie.

"The minor delays caused to civilian air traffic are regretted."

Arrivals to Heathrow were delayed for up to an hour
Arrivals to Heathrow were delayed for up to an hour. Picture: PA

Gareth Corfield of The Register told LBC News that something may have gone "wrong" for the RAF flight to need to reroute across the Heathrow arrivals path.

He said: "I can't imagine why they would be doing that unless it was a really serious problem."

Mr Corfield gave a number of possible explanations including pilot error, someone rushing back to a nearby RAF airfield or even a drone.

He said the "unplanned" delay could prove costly for all involved. Airlines could "rack up bills" from being held, passengers may well claim compensation for the disruption, and the airport could demand money for their flights arriving in the wrong order.

The reporter dismissed the idea that it could have been caused by a VIP flight as "there are well-known procedures in place for moving planes" with VIPS onboard.

He added: "Something like this makes the whole country sit up and say "what's going on?"

Mr Corfield said delays like this were "not unheard of" but he could not think of a similar situation.