While most environmental protests occur in landside areas of airports, activists have shown intent to infiltrate airside areas, posing a major security threat.

The aviation sector’s impact on climate change and the environment has been a primary focus for activists for many years. Concerns raised by environmental activists have largely been concentrated on aircraft emissions, resulting in protests and demonstrations, including over airport expansions that would lead to greater emissions. Such action in recent years has targeted international and regional hubs, including cargo centres, as well as general aviation facilities. The use of private jets has also remained a key issue. Coinciding with the first week of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (more commonly referred to as ‘COP27’), which was held in Egypt from 6-20 November, coordinated protests were staged at airports in 11 countries as part of the so-called ‘Make Them Pay’ campaign by Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Scientist Rebellion. The campaign makes three demands: ban private jets, tax frequent flyers and “make polluters pay”.

Protests and demonstrations can be organised with little or no notice. However, in instances where actions are advertised publicly in advance, plans to breach airport perimeters are typically organised covertly. Activists gaining access to airside areas to stage protests and demonstrations pose significant security, safety and operational concerns. Below are examples of airside security breaches by environmental activists to which Osprey Flight Solutions has alerted its clients.

Berlin Brandenburg Airport, Germany

On 24 November, Osprey issued an alert on a protest by ‘Letzte Generation’ (‘Last Generation’) activists at Berlin Airport (EDDB/BER). Operations at the airport were suspended for almost two hours after the activists cut through a perimeter fence and gained access to the airside area, where they rode bicycles and displayed banners while some activists glued themselves to the tarmac. Due to the disruption, numerous inbound flights were diverted to nearby airports or had to return to their point of origin. Several arrests were made. Previously, on 12 November, Letzte Generation had announced that it was considering moving towards “peacefully paralysing” airports as part of its actions against “climate collapse”.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Netherlands

On 4 November, Osprey proactively alerted its clients to a planned demonstration by XR and Greenpeace at Schiphol Airport (EHAM/AMS) to call for a ban on private flights; Osprey advised operators to anticipate potential disruption to flight operations and airport ground transport. On the following day, 5 November, Osprey issued a follow-up alert after hundreds of activists gained access to the airport’s apron where private jets were parked. The activists gathered around jets to prevent their movement and rode bikes around the apron. According to the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, more than 200 activists were arrested during the protest.

Paris-Le Bourget Airport, France

On 21 January, Osprey issued an alert after more than 70 activists from XR, Attac and Alternatiba conducted a protest at Paris-Le Bourget Airport (LFFB/LBG), during which activists cut through the perimeter fence and gained access to the apron. The activists deployed banners and placards on a small area of the apron. The protest was staged over the use of private jets and government inaction over the issue.

In another recent incident, on 31 October, a group of around 100 activists from XR and Attac attempted to gain airside access to conduct protest action at Paris-Le Bourget Airport; however, the police prevented the activists from breaching the perimeter. Multiple arrests were also made.

Outlook

Considering announcements from environmental activist groups to continue to target aviation installations, operators should anticipate the possibility of similar protest activity and social unrest at airports in the future with little notice or predictability. As demonstrated by previous incidents, including the recent protest at Berlin Airport, unrest of this nature can cause significant disruption to airport operations, irrespective of whether the action is targeting a specific type of operation, such as private flights. In the event of such disruption, operators should be prepared to extend accommodation and arrange ground transportation at short notice for crew unable to depart on schedule. It is also worth noting that while the protests outlined above have all occurred at European facilities, environmental activism targeting aviation is a global issue.

While not all protests and demonstrations by environmental activist groups result in security breaches, the incidents outlined above highlight the intent by activists to reach airside areas of aviation facilities. The breaches also highlight potential security vulnerabilities at airports that could be exploited by groups with more nefarious intent, particularly given the lack of sophisticated methods used to successfully penetrate the perimeter fences. Though actions have so far focused on causing disruption to flight operations, the possibility that activists may escalate to sabotaging air assets cannot be ruled out. Therefore, it is important for operators to safeguard aircraft through the use of anti-tamper measures. Osprey will continue to monitor environmental protests targeting aviation facilities as well as security breaches at such locations globally and provide up-to-date, detailed information and advice via our alerts.

About the author

Isobel Linsell Aviation Security Analyst

Isobel is an Aviation Security Analyst. In her role, she regularly researches and compiles alerts on a range of aviation security incidents and has a particular interest in narcotics trafficking using illegal flights and aviation-related cyber security incidents.

Prior to joining she was a Geopolitical Intelligence Analyst for a travel risk management company, where, in addition to this role, was part of a team that managed an airline safety database.

Isobel also holds a master’s degree in Security Management from the University of Portsmouth, which she obtained in 2019. For her dissertation, she conducted primary research into the development of performance measurements for Security Management Systems (SeMS) within the aviation sector.

 

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