Climate Protesters Occupy Britain's Stansted Airport

LONDON, UK, December 8, 2008 (ENS) – Protesters from the climate action group Plane Stupid this morning shut down Britain’s third largest airport by cutting through the perimeter fence and camping on the runway, surrounding themselves with fortified security fencing.

The protest at Stansted Airport just north of London began at 3:15 this morning while airport’s only runway was temporarily closed for maintenance work. Plane Stupid aimed to prevent the scheduled reopening of the runway at 5 am.

The group said its goal was to maintain its blockade for as long as possible, “preventing the release of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.”

Plane Stupid protesters on the tarmac at
Stansted Airport (Photo courtesy Plane Stupid)

A protester who identified herself only as Lily, said, “We’re here because our parents’ generation has failed us and its now down to young people to stop climate change by whatever peaceful means we have left. We’re afraid of what the police might do to us, we’re afraid of going to jail but nothing scares us as much as the threat of runaway climate change.”

“We’ve thought through the consequences of what we’re doing here but we’re determined to stop as many tonnes of CO2 as we can,” she said.

The average flight out of Stansted has a climate impact equivalent to 41.58 tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the group said in a statement, adding that the airport emits around four tonnes of carbon dioxide every minute.

Protesters said security staff from airport operator BAA rammed them with a snowplough.

Protester Richard Claxton, who was locked to the fencing at the time, said, “I was terrified. You don’t expect to be attacked with a snowplough on a peaceful protest.”

Essex Police brought in specialist equipment to remove the protesters and arrested 57 people.

The runway was re-opened just after 08:00.

Due to the disruption, Ryanair cancelled 52 inbound and outbound flights from Stansted.

“We are dealing with a security breach, which has caused the runway to be closed and flights canceled, but at no time were any passengers or planes in danger,” said Nick Barton, the BAA commercial director at Stansted.

Ryanair, Stansted’s largest airline, today called on BAA Stansted to explain why protestors were able to breach Stansted security at 3 am, and why it took Stansted over five hours to remove them from the taxi-way.

Today’s security failure at Stansted joins a long list of management failures at the airport, including lengthy queues at security and at passport control, Ryanair said in a statement.

Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara said, “The security at BAA Stansted airport has once again failed. We need to know what measures the BAA is putting in place to prevent these repeated security failures. BAA Stansted is not fit for purpose.”

Stansted Airport north of London, England
(Photo by Barrington Russell)

Ryanair renewed its call today for the break-up of the BAA monopoly control of all British airports and the sale of Stansted in order to improve customer services.

“We need to break up the BAA monopoly as soon as possible to improve customer services and end these BAA cock-ups,” said McNamara.

BAA owns seven UK airports, including Heathrow, has a 65 percent stake in Italy’s Naples Airport and retail management contracts at three U.S. airports – Baltimore-Washington, Boston-Logan, and Pittsburgh.

Stansted is Britain’s third-busiest airport, offering flights to more than 160 destinations in over 30 countries. It serves nearly 23 million passengers and 184,000 air transport movements a year.

A Plane Stupid protester who calls herself Tilly, said, “We all grew up listening to Blair and Brown talking about the urgent need to slash emissions, but nothing ever happened. Even now politicians from our parents’ generation are in Poland holding talks about talks, but still nobody’s actually doing anything.”

“The scientists tell us we’ve got about seven years to make emissions peak then drop, and if we fail it will be the people on this runway, and our children, who’ll live with the consequences,” she said. “That’s why I’m doing this.”

The campaigners chose to close Stansted after the government approved the expansion of capacity at the airport by ten million passengers a year. The note that aviation is Britain’s fastest growing source of emissions, already amounting to at least 13 percent of the country’s climate impact.

With plans for new runways across the UK, including at Heathrow and Stansted, experts from the Tyndall Centre for climate research say the Labour Party’s aviation policy alone “will scupper any chance the UK has of hitting its climate targets.”

Plane Stupid says there will be more protests if a third runway at Heathrow is approved. A decision is expected shortly.

Protester Daniel said, “We fully appreciate the scale of what we’ve done here today and we know many people will struggle to understand why we’ve done it, but the Arctic ice cap is disappearing, the seas are rising and our last chance to save our future is vanishing. With people taking more flights in Britain than anywhere else on Earth, we have a unique responsibility to tackle emissions from flying.”

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