London

Heathrow Airport climate change protest delays flights

  • 13 July 2015
  • From the section London
protesters at Heathrow Image copyright @PlaneStupid
Image caption Plane Stupid said 13 demonstrators had breached a perimeter fence

Protesters disrupted flights at Heathrow Airport by cutting through a fence and chaining themselves together on a runway.

Direct action group Plane Stupid said 13 demonstrators opposed to the airport's expansion plans got on to the northern runway at 03:30 BST.

The runway opened 20 minutes late but flights were able to leave from the southern runway, the airport said.

The actions of the protesters has raised security concerns.

The airport apologised for the disruption caused and advised passengers to check with their airlines before they travel.

Thirteen protesters were arrested on suspicion of Aviation Act offences, police said.

All the protesters were removed from the runway by 10:00.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Emergency service workers were seen talking to an activist dressed as a polar bear

The airport's southern runway remained open throughout the protest.

"This morning a group of people staged a protest on the northern runway. These individuals have since been removed by police.

"Both runways were operational throughout, although there have been some delays and a few cancellations - we are sorry to those passengers who experienced disruption this morning," the airport said in a statement.

Image caption The group cut through a perimeter fence, which was later repaired
Image copyright @PlaneStupid
Image caption Heathrow Airport said the northern runway reopened at 06:20 BST

The airport said the first flight was meant to take off from the northern runway at about 06:00, but flights started at 06:20. A spokesman added 22 flights were cancelled out of 1,300.

Heathrow does not schedule any departures from 23:00 until 06:00 due to noise restrictions.

Independent air transport consultant John Strickland said the protesters entered the runway when flights were restricted, but he added they must have known they would "have an impact when the airport opened".

Media captionThe BBC's Andy Moore says the apparent ease with which the protesters gained access to the runway raises questions over security

Afzal Ashraf, from the defence and security think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said the protesters' actions raised security concerns.

"If they did manage to get to a runway before being apprehended then there is a bit of an issue," he said.

"If a terrorist group came up to the fence it would take a few minutes to cut through."

Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent

This protest generated more publicity than disruption. You might get 13 flights cancelled on any day at Heathrow.

But it raises serious questions about security and the prospect of further protests in future.

Heathrow don't talk about their security but, as I understand it, these protesters didn't get very far along the runway because they were detected by the infrared system that normally checks for bits that have fallen off aircraft. Remember, Concorde crashed after hitting a small piece that came off another plane.

They do patrol the perimeter, but this clearly shows that it's not too hard to cut your way through in the early hours and disrupt one of the world's busiest airports. The road goes right next to the fence.

It's one thing dealing with 13 climate change activists in polar bear suits. But what if it was a group with a more sinister motive?

'Hose them down'

A video posted online appeared to show several activists chained together and being spoken to by police officers.

In the footage, an officer told them: "As a consequence of you being here, you are causing severe disruption and it will be in the millions of pounds because it will take us a while to remove you.

"The cost will be in the couple of millions. The airport will attempt to make a civil recovery."

The Met Police said the protesters had chained themselves together using a tripod which they had assembled themselves.

Image copyright @PlaneStupid
Image caption Some protesters were at one end the runway until about 10:00 BST

Ella Gilbert, one of the activists on the runway, said: "It's those who fly frequently and unnecessarily who are driving the need for expansion, and we cannot keep ignoring the terrifying consequences of flying like there's no tomorrow."

At least seven British Airways flights from Terminal 5 were cancelled, a spokesman from the airline said: "We are doing everything we can to minimise disruption to our flights."

Louise Rogers, 35, and Ciara Lalor, 34, had their flight to Dublin cancelled.

Ms Lalor said: "They shouldn't be allowed. Get the fire engine out and hose them down."

On 1 July a report recommended a new runway should be built at Heathrow rather than Gatwick.

The Airports Commission said Heathrow was best placed to provide "urgently required" capacity, but environmentalists warned building a new runway there would make it harder to reduce air pollution and climate change emissions.

Image copyright @PlaneStupid
Image caption Police said the protesters had chained themselves to a "tripod" which they had assembled themselves
Image copyright @PlaneStupid
Image caption Plane Stupid said the protesters stayed on the runway for as long as possible

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