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.


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.