Droning On

A fleet of drones will try to shut down London’s Heathrow Airport next week

An airplane taking off at Heathrow Airport. (Sebastian Grochowicz/Unsplash)

London’s Heathrow Airport, the largest airport in the U.K. and seventh busiest in the world, has become the next target of criticism by climate activists. A group called the Heathrow Pause plans to interrupt flight activity at the airport by flying toy drones over the transit hub on September 13 in order to draw awareness to the transportation sector’s contributions to greenhouse gases in the U.K. This comes in response to the Heathrow Expansion Plan, which contravenes the Climate and Environmental Emergency declared by Parliament in May 2019. 

Stopping traffic at the airport requires the creation of an “exclusion zone” that would surround the airport and completely ignores Heathrow’s 3.1-mile no-fly zone for drones and aircraft not affiliated with the airport. The Heathrow Pause is calling for climate activists to join their fight against the airport and its members are willing to face arrest under the main belief of their manifesto that, “In light of current scientific knowledge and quantifiable evidence it is a crime against humanity – and all life on earth – to support carbon-intensive infrastructure projects.”

The Heathrow Expansion’s main goal is to connect all of the U.K. under a nine-point Connectivity Plan, as stated on their website, with the bold statement exclaiming that the plan is “Supported by the Whole of the UK”. Despite corporate support, Heathrow has been a steady target of climate activists. In 2017, the airport emitted 19.5 million tons of carbon, and if a third runway is built there, an addition of 4.3 million tons of atmospheric pollution would be released per year. In the wake of the declared U.K. Climate Emergency, there have been more efforts to stop the airport’s expansion. 



Carbon emissions from air travel are one of the hardest sources to cut due to the fact that there is no current alternative to carbon-heavy jet fuels. Bio-jet fuels that can operate at the scale of use of major airlines are still far from complete development. The only current solution is to reduce flight activity or abandon air transportation altogether. 

Due to the intensity and potential impacts of their peaceful protest, Heathrow Pause has created a list of protocols to ensure the safety of those involved and affected by the protest. The airport authorities have been given a six-week notice of the start date and time of the protest, and there will be a one hour notice before each drone flight. Drone use is planned to stop in the event of a “genuine emergency” and will not be flown through flight paths. Although the fleet of toy drones won’t stop air travel completely, it just might be an action large enough to draw attention to the importance of investment in climate reform. 

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