UK climate protesters to target Heathrow airport with drones

Climate change activist group Heathrow Pause says drones will not be flown in airport's flight paths.

    Climate change activists at an Extinction Rebellion protest outside Heathrow airport in April 2019 [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]
    Climate change activists at an Extinction Rebellion protest outside Heathrow airport in April 2019 [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]

    British climate change activists have said they will disrupt London's Heathrow airport with toy drones from September 13, a step they hope will ground flights and put pressure on the government to take tougher steps to reduce carbon emissions.

    Heathrow could mitigate the impact of the action, but flying drones will add to travel chaos at Europe's biggest airport in September, with British Airways (BA) pilots' planned strikes.

    The Heathrow Pause group said in a statement on Thursday that it would fly toy drones within a 5km restricted zone around the airport 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 the climate activism group 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 but said that it had robust plans in place to make sure the airport could continue to operate.

    "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."

    Drone chaos

    Drone sightings caused chaos last December at Gatwick, Britain's second busiest airport after Heathrow, disrupting the travel plans of tens of thousands of people in the run-up to Christmas.

    The incident led to about 1,000 flight cancellations and affected the travel of 140,000 passengers.

    Another drone sighting halted flights for about an hour at Heathrow in January. Both airports have ordered military-grade anti-drone defences.

    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 last year. The expansion faces legal challenges from environmental groups. Before becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson - elected as Heathrow's MP - promised to lie in front of bulldozers to stop the construction of the third runway. It is understood he has since "changed his mind", according to reports.

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

    Britain's BALPA pilots' union said it wanted to meet BA CEO Alex Cruz after he said he wanted a resolution but had not had a response. The union said formal talks were pointless until they heard from Cruz, but BA welcomed the development.

    Low carbon funding

    Separately on Thursday, Britain announced 390 million pounds ($480m) of spending for low-carbon technology, most of which will go to a steel industry fund to help it reduce emissions.

    The announcement of 250 million pounds ($305m) Clean Steel Fund was accompanied by a 100 million pounds ($122m) fund to develop the production of hydrogen, which emits no greenhouse gas when burned.

    The remaining 40 million pounds ($48.8m) will be spent on much smaller projects, including 150,000 pounds ($183,000) for a Scottish gin distillery heated by hydrogen instead of natural gas, reducing emissions by the equivalent of 18 cars.

    The funding is part of Britain's efforts to meet its target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to help curb rising global temperatures.

    "Developing hydrogen technology has the potential to not only reduce emissions from industry, but could also help us seize the opportunities of the global shift to cleaner economies," Climate Change Minister Ian Duncan said in a statement.

    The government has issued a call for evidence from the steel industry to help it design the new Clean Steel Fund.

    US to relax methane limits?

    Separately, the Trump administration is expected to further ease oversight of the oil and gas industry's emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

    The oil industry and environmental groups say they expect the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to release a proposal as soon as Thursday that would roll back requirements on detecting and plugging methane leaks at oil and gas facilities.

    The move would be the latest in a series of efforts by the Trump administration in easing emission controls on the oil, gas and coal industries.

    Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. It is more destructive for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

    A study by the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, has concluded the oil and gas industry is emitting far more heat-trapping gas than what is reported to the EPA.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies