Drone disruption? Climate activists to target London’s Heathrow airport in September

British Airways logos are seen on tail fins at Heathrow Airport in west London in 2018. The airport is set to be a target for drone-flying climate change activists. (Reuters)
Updated 29 August 2019

Drone disruption? Climate activists to target London’s Heathrow airport in September

  • Activists to use toy drones from Sept. 13, which could add to September travel chaos
  • Heathrow says illegal acts are counterproductive, but Europe’s biggest airport says it can mitigate impact

LONDON: British climate change activists said they would disrupt London’s Heathrow airport with toy drones from Sept. 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 strike action by British Airways pilots also planned.

The Heathrow Pause group said 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 offenses 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 cancelations 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 defenses.

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 by lawmakers last year. The expansion faces legal challenges from environmental groups.

The airport already faces disruption next month, with British Airways pilots set to strike on Sept. 9-10 and Sept 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 with 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.


Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

Updated 10 July 2020

Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

  • Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018
  • Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s attorney general said Friday that two men had confessed to killing a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group as part of a plot to topple Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.
Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018.
His shooting death last week sparked days of protests and ethnic violence that killed 239 people, according to police figures.
“The assassination was intended to be a cover to take power from the incumbent by force,” attorney general Abebech Abbebe said in a statement Friday aired on state television, without providing details.
Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office, a complaint echoed by many protesters last week.
Abebech said that along with the two men who have allegedly confessed to the crime, the government has identified a third suspect who remains on the run.
One of the men in custody identified the masterminds of the alleged plot as members of a rebel group the government believes is affiliated with the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) political party, Abebech said.
The OLF, a former rebel movement, returned to Ethiopia from exile after Abiy took office and has repeatedly disavowed any links to armed insurgents.
The Internet remained shut off Friday for an 11th consecutive day, though Addis Ababa remains calm and Abiy’s office issued a statement saying the surrounding Oromia region had “returned to calm and citizens have resumed normal activities.”
In her statement, however, Abebech said unnamed agitators were calling for additional protests and road blockages in the coming days.
“There are those that have hidden themselves in nice places but are calling on Ethiopian youth to fight each other, close roads and to cease working as part of a rebellion call,” Abebech said.
“Above all we call on our people to disobey this rebellion call and to thwart it.”