Protestors Invade Stanstead Airport

On Monday 8th December protesters from the anti-aviation activists, Plane Stupid, broke through the perimeter barriers of Stansted Airport in Essex, England, to make a point against the proposed building of a second runway at London's third biggest airport. (Heathrow & Gatwick are London's two top airports)

All the protesters were arrested and are mainly being charged with aggravated trespass. Ryanair cancelled over 50 flights, leaving passengers stranded at Stansted Airport and on the continent (Europe).

Arguments For the Protesters

Firstly, I disagree with the building of a second runway at Stansted because I believe the thinking behind the expansion is deeply flawed. The basis for the second runway is an assumed, continuous expansion of air traffic with an ever-steady "demand" from market forces. I believe this "projection" to be grossly optimistic and overtly simplistic.

In the last few years oil prices have shot up! Demand from emerging economies like China & India forced demand for, and the consumption of oil to record highs. This in turn affected the developed world with many countries hurting from high fuel prices. Drivers of 15 MPG SUVs had to reconsider their consumption. Car manufacturers saw a drop in demand for gas-guzzlers and the whole US car industry is now "on the edge". Other countries' car industries are feeling the affects too, but no to quite the extent of the US, showing that their industrial/economic model was unsustainable. Profits at airlines have been eroded by sky-high fuel costs and the aviation industry has gone through a phase of failures and consolidations.

Of course oil prices have plummeted again but, coupled with the worldwide economic crisis, these are certainly not the conditions for a resurgence in air travel. Indeed, most economic predictions point to a continued period of effective global recession before growth returns at far-reduced, more realistic levels.

This totally blows away the notion I saw presented by some guy on TV who stated something along the lines of

"currently 50% of the British population fly, so what happens when the other 50% of the population wish to fly?"

This hollow argument was supposed to justify the expansion of Stansted with its proposed second runway. That the other half of Britain's population would be able to fly is pretty moot against a backdrop of rising unemployment, record national & personal debt and the biggest factor of all that I think has been completely overlooked... Peak Oil.

As we know, oil is a finite resource. Peak oil production figures predict that we a) have already hit peak oil production or b) will hit it by 2020. Whether you take the optimistic view or the pessimistic angle, a decline in oil availability will be upon us fairly soon, so what is the use in expansion of an industry that looks like it will then decline quickly?

A lot of economic projections, policy and decisions seem to be made on some very precarious forecasts. Growth in air travel seems to be just another industry built on some very shaky foundations.

Arguments Against the Protesters

Despite claims of "heavy hearts" at their action and apologies for disrupting individual journeys, Plane Stupid made a point, got on the news, got arrested and pissed a lot of people off. I should know, I was there.

I was in Germany to see my mother for the first time in a few months and, despite being a green, I flew in to the tiny little Zweibrücken Airport with Ryanair. The protest at Stansted on Monday morning affected my return flight. We were watching the news before we left for the airport and were well aware of the situation but Ryanair made no changes prior to our departure for Zweibrücken. Upon reaching the airport, despite the fact that the protesters had already been moved, Ryanair made a blanket policy of cancelling all their flights to and from Stansted.

There were no delays, no later flights, no rescheduling. I blame Ryanair for having to take another flight on the next day rather than risk the 2 hour drive to another German airport with the potential of landing at a different airport in the UK. But ultimately there were a lot of extremely unhappy people in the tiny little Zweibrücken airport and they all blamed the protesters.

I was lucky to have somewhere to stay at no cost but I did have a completely wasted car journey. My pointless eighty mile round trip must have used at least 2 or 3 gallons of fuel. I also had to take another day off work, forcing me to use a day of holiday when I didn't need to and taking me away from the small business I work at. Upon getting back to England I even had to pay another £9 for a day's worth of unanticipated parking.

As I say, I was lucky. I was just one passenger on one flight and 50+ flights were cancelled. Multiply the waste from my situation by the number of passengers that were affected. There were plenty more travellers left stranded who were really angry and risked driving further afield.

Verdict

I believe that the direct action by Plane Stupid may have done more harm than good to their cause, particularly amongst Joe Public, and it will take a lot of hard work to undo the damage to the public perception, which is a shame, because it would be better if more effort was put into publicly promoting transparency of the facts & figures of the economy, aviation and fuel than having to rebuild their "brand".

However, they have certainly raised the issue to the public domain this week, but how long will it stay there? What will it take to keep the debate going so that all the facts and figures are understood and not spun by those who stand to gain from short-term? Of course a second runway will generate jobs whilst the construction is under way and public spending is just the sort of economic stimulus that is needed in an economic downturn. But isn't the government being short-sighted by continually coming up with "the same old chestnut" of public spending on roads, public spending on airports when there's a distinct possibility that the fuel for all the machines that use these "public works" will dry up and the whole reason for the original construction effectively becomes obsolete?

We face some tough challenges ahead with the current economic situation and with the threats posed by climate change. If the government thinks we can "get back on track" to the levels of economic "prosperity" we've experienced over the last decade or so, then I think they are sorely misguided, short-sighted and their interests are being distorted by the lobbyists with the greatest clout (money, position and influence - something that environmentalists are unfortunate not to have so much of at this point in time).

The sooner the British government actually "goes green" and actually puts some major effort into genuinely becoming the leaders of green issues in Europe and the world, like it keeps harping on about, then it can change public works spending from roads, airports and nuclear power stations to wind, wave, solar and geothermal projects. It's not hard to understand but the sooner they get their thick heads 'round the notion, then we should be able to go in the right direction.