Chris Radburn/PA Wire/AP
Stansted Airport, Essex

Protesters Expose Security Weaknesses at London Airport

December 08, 2008 11:48 AM
by Anne Szustek
Demonstrators from an environmental group took over a runway at Stansted Airport Monday, leading to arrests and the cancellation of dozens of flights.
The 50-plus environmental activists from an organization called Plane Stupid, equipped with little more than wire cutters, cut through a fence around a runway at London’s Stansted Airport around 3:15 a.m. local time Monday. The runway in question had already been closed for maintenance work; however, the protest led the airport to shut down for five hours, delaying and canceling dozens of flights and disrupting thousands of passengers’ itineraries.

The group was protesting the planned construction of an additional runway at both Stansted, the third-busiest airport serving the British capital, and at London Heathrow, the city’s main hub airport, on the grounds that the new runways would contribute to carbon emissions. According to a statement issued by Plane Stupid, aviation accounts for 13 percent of Britain’s allotment for carbon emissions.

Authorities in Essex, where Stansted Airport is located, said they arrested 57 people in connection with the protest. “Being arrested is a terrifying prospect, but not nearly as terrifying as the threat of climate change,” Lily Kember, one of the protesters, told U.K. paper The Daily Telegraph.

Stansted Airport is now operating again, albeit with flight delays. Irish discount carrier Ryanair, which has a large operational base at the airport, said that it had to cancel 56 flights routed through Stansted. The airline said that it was requesting an investigation “as to why the BAA Stansted security has once again failed to keep Stansted secure and open to the travelling public.”

The Monday protest marked the second time this year a group has been able to access an airport area deemed secure at one of London’s four main airports. Four Greenpeace members climbed on top of a British Airways plane at Heathrow on Feb. 25. Last year Plane Stupid also briefly took possession of a wing of an Airbus A380 as it was en route to a British factory.

“It’s too expensive to provide the kind of perimeter security that could keep protesters out,” Doug McVitie, an airline industry consultant, told Bloomberg. “It’s dead easy to shut down an airport.”

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