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Sustainability Series: Yet more drone disruption set for Heathrow

Labelled 100 per cent safe and 100 per cent illegal, the plight of the drone comes back to haunt Heathrow Airport as more climate activists demand their voices are heard.

Sustainability Series: Are we sufficiently prepared to adapt to climate change?

Friday the 13th has notoriously been an unlucky day, but for Heathrow, on Friday 13 September 2019, toy drones are set to reap havoc on flight movements at the UK’s only hub airport. 

Activists from the Heathrow Pause group are staging this event to highlight the environmental impact that will come as a result of the third runway expansion at the airport.

But is this blatant disregard for the law and rules imposed commendable in the face of the global climate emergency we currently find ourselves in?

Roger Hallam, one of the people set to fly toy drones at Heathrow, commented: “If the science is to be believed, humankind is heading for indescribable suffering if we continue to put carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The Heathrow expansion is the biggest carbon intensive infrastructure project in Europe. So I’ll be flying a drone at head height, some distance from Heathrow. It’ll be 100 per cent safe and 100 per cent illegal. So I’m likely to get arrested and I could be going to prison.”

Hallam continued: “Maybe I’m mainly doing it because I’m trying to be a human being. I’m 53; in a few decades I’m not going to be here anymore. Maybe in a few years. But when I die, I want to know I haven’t lived a lie. I cannot pretend I don’t know what needs to happen. What needs to happen is thousands of people need to create mass economic disruption and go to prison in order to force governments to protect their people and to enact legislation that will rapidly reduce carbon emissions. Simple as that.”

The group is devised of people “who feel that this disruptive action is necessary to get the government to act on the climate and ecological emergency with the urgency it deserves”. The group is also staging this stunt “to highlight the incompatibility of Heathrow Airport’s expansion with the government’s own legally binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050”.

Valerie Milner-Brown, another of the people flying a toy drone, commented: “I feel at the end of knowing what else to do. We know the science, we know what’s already happening to communities around the world. Unprecedented extreme weather is ripping through regions and destroying lives. The breakdown of our environment spells disaster for billions. I can’t with good conscience not act. I don’t want to get arrested, but it feels like it’s the last resort for our government to take notice.

“Which is why I’m participating in this action. By flying a drone at head height, well away from any flight path, but within the exclusion zone, I can safely break the law and make a statement about my love for our beautiful planet, the extraordinary web of life and my fear for its destruction if we don’t rapidly change and stop ludicrous plans such as the third runway at Heathrow.”

In a statement, the airport said: “In order to ensure that our operation remains open and safe, we are working closely with a number of stakeholders including the police, (air traffic controllers) NATS and (aviation regulator) CAA to ensure that the UK’s hub airport does not close.

“We have in place dynamic risk assessment programmes which are carried out by airfield and security experts and at no time will safety be compromised. Alongside drone detection capabilities, we will mitigate the impact of this illegal action and operate in a way that is safe at all times.”

In another statement issued on LinkedIn, the airport continued: “We’d like to reassure passengers that we will be using our drone mitigation and detection systems, dynamic situation assessments and our partnership with the authorities, to minimise any intended disruption and keep you safe. Safety is always our number one priority. 

“We agree with the need to act on climate change but it is through constructive engagement and action that real progress will be made. Attempting to disrupt hard-working passengers and families taking flights will not solve the issue.”

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