Sunday 15 September 2019

Climate activists to fly drones at London Heathrow airport

A drone in flight
A drone in flight

Alistair Smout and Guy Faulconbridge

British climate change activists said they would fly toy drones at London's Heathrow airport from Sept. 13, a step that is likely to ground flights, to put pressure on the government to take tougher steps to reduce carbon emissions.

The planned action could add to travel chaos at Heathrow, Europe's biggest airport, in September, with strike action by British Airways pilots also planned.

The Heathrow Pause group said it would fly toy drones within the restricted zone but outside the flight paths of the airport, a step the group said would force the airport to ground flights.

"This is a symbolic action, using a legal loophole and participants’ self-sacrifice to draw attention to the most serious and urgent crisis humanity has ever faced," the group said.

"The government’s inaction on climate change, and the looming catastrophe of airport expansion, gives us no choice and compels us to act," it said.

Heathrow Pause, a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion which has disrupted London with high profile action this year, said it would fly drones at no higher than head level and give the airport one hour's advance notice.

The airport said the plan was illegal and counterproductive.

"We agree with the need to act on climate change. This is a global issue that requires constructive engagement and action. Committing criminal offences and disrupting passengers is counterproductive," a spokesman for Heathrow said.

"The act of flying drones within 5km of an airfield is illegal because it carries risk. We will be working closely with the Met Police and other authorities to manage and mitigate any impacts this may cause."

Heathrow Pause said: "All participants flying drones know they risk arrest and imprisonment, and are prepared to be arrested peacefully."

An Extinction Rebellion plan to disrupt Heathrow with drones during the peak summer season was shelved.

Heathrow had 80 million passengers in 2018, and is set to get bigger, with a third runway approved by lawmakers last year. The expansion faces legal challenges from environmental groups.

The airport already faces disruption next month, with British Airways pilots set to strike on Sept. 9-10 and Sept 27. Britain's aviation regulator has asked the airline to explain how it has handled the rebooking of customers after complaints.

The airline said new talks with Britain's BALPA pilots union were underway.

Reuters

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