Heathrow, Met Police and Royal Air Force collaborate in joint exercise to simulate aircraft hostage scenario
The Met, along with Heathrow Airport Limited and Royal Air Force personnel took part in a planned resilience training exercise overnight on 17 November, testing a multi-agency response to an aircraft hijack scenario.
As part of Exercise Night Star, RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled from RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire to escort a passenger aircraft to Heathrow. Once landed Specialist Units from the Met Police met the aircraft and responded to the simulation, with the exercise designed to test the skills of police officers and staff from different units - including hostage negotiators, investigators, and firearms officers who boarded the 160-seater plane.
Officers worked in close conjunction with Heathrow colleagues, NATS and the RAF’s National Air and Space Operations Centre to co-ordinate both the planning of the exercise and the response.
Chief Superintendent Ian Howells, who leads the Met's Aviation Policing Command, said: "All year round, the Met arranges and takes part in exercises to put the specialist training of officers to the test, in a range of different scenarios.
"Exercises such as this allow us to ensure that, with our partners, we are well-prepared to respond to all types of emergencies - at our airports, or elsewhere in the Capital. This gives our officers and staff vital experience, and also means that we can continually refine and improve upon our plans which help to keep the public safe."
The exercise was not carried out in response to any specific threat or intelligence, and forms part of a regular training programme designed to test procedures and enhance collaboration between the agencies involved. This exercise follows a major live-play exercise held at a disused terminal building at Heathrow in December 2022.
Heathrow’s Director of Operations, Dale Reeson said: “Simulating lifelike scenarios at the airport and running regular resilience training is an essential part of our preparedness planning. We worked in close collaboration with the Met Police and RAF as part of last night’s scenario, and the learnings we’ll take from the joint exercise will only help to further strengthen our crisis response capabilities.”
Royal Air Force Typhoons are on permanent standby to respond to any potential threat in or near UK airspace. They are regularly called upon to rapidly react to belligerent, unknown or non-communicating aircraft and frequently participate in planned training exercises.
Wing Commander Wilkinson coordinated the RAF element from the passenger aircraft. He said: “Exercise Night Star has provided the rare opportunity for a fully joint and multi-agency end to end assurance of the UK’s Air Defence and Counter Terrorism response. Each participating unit has used the exercise to hone their skills and improve their procedures to continue to ensure aviation safety.”