Environmental activists in the UK are planning drone disruption at London Heathrow airport on September 13.
The group, called Pause Heathrow, is a separate but related offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, an environmental pressure group that has previously taken direct action across the UK. “Pause” Heathrow refers to plans to expand what is already one of the world’s busiest airports.
The announced action follows previous plans that were called off by Extinction Rebellion in June.
Pause Heathrow… With 100 drones under head height?
But this action is not quite as direct as it seems. Instead of flying above the airport to recreate the chaos that stranded thousands of passengers and caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled before Christmas 2018, Pause Heathrow plan to exploit an overzealous health and safety protocol to ground air traffic.
A spokesman for the organisation outlined that between 50 to 200 people plan to fly drones simultaneously across a number of days.
“From 13 September, we will exploit a loophole in Heathrow airport’s health and safety protocols and fly toy drones within its restricted zone,” the group said. “It is our understanding that the airport’s authorities will respond by grounding all flights. Drones will not be flown in flight paths and there will be no risk of harm to anyone.”
According to the Guardian, the same spokesman said, “We know that we will be arrested. We know that we face significant prison sentences for our actions. We have lives, we have families, we do not wish to go to prison. But we are steadfast in our resolve. We do this in defence of life. We do it because our consciences leave us no other choice but to act.”
The activists plan to fly the drones within the three-mile (5km) exclusion zone surrounding the airport. According to Pause Heathrow, the airport will be given an hour’s notice before each flight, ensuring that to “comply with Heathrow’s own rules, no [manned] aircraft flights will take place”.
So in a way, this is the most British example of activism you can imagine, resting entirely on an overzealous reading of the airport’s health and safety protocols.
On the one hand, those responsible for the actions are planning to alert the relevant authorities ahead of time and have no intention of putting anyone at risk. Instead, this is a stunt designed to exploit a loophole, not a swarm of drones disrupting flight paths. And on the other hand, the seemingly extreme health and safety protocols in place at Heathrow leave room for this to be an effective move.
A statement accompanying the video says, “The Heathrow Pause Action at Heathrow Airport has been designed to ensure it is safe, peaceful, and nonviolent. We are committed to taking every possible step to ensure nobody is hurt or endangered, and have put stringent safety measures and protocols in place regarding the use of toy drones, to guarantee the action complies with our objectives and concerns.”