|Method||Nonviolence Direct Action|
Plane Stupid is a UK-focused group of environmental protesters who state their aim as wanting to see an end to airport expansion for what it sees as "unnecessary and unsustainable" flights. The organisation has no formal hierarchy, leader, or media figurehead. It is a loose association of autonomous regional groups. It is inspired by networks like Earth First! and the earlier peace camps and road protests. It is funded by donations.
The group was founded in 2005 by Joss Garman, Richard George and Graham Thompson. In January 2008 Joss Garman was named by The Guardian as one of its "50 people who could save the planet" for his campaigning work around aviation.
The group was formed in September 2005 when a group of activists decided to disrupt an international aviation conference held in a central London hotel. They released helium balloons with personal alarms up to the ceiling during the keynote speech by a senior British Airways executive.
Protests at UK airports
In September 2006 Plane Stupid blocked a taxiway at East Midlands Airport for four hours. Their spokesman Leo Murray said "The people of the past didn't know what the problem was. For the people of the future it's going to be too late. People in developing countries are powerless to do anything about it. If we don't do this, it's not going to get done." Managers from the airport said the protest was "irresponsible". Leicestershire police said that officers were on scene within minutes, but by that time airport security already had the demonstrators contained and therefore they did not find it necessary to deploy all the resources available to them.
In October 2007 Plane Stupid disrupted activities at Manchester Airport, which hopes to double its passenger capacity to 50 million by 2030. They blockaded the entrance to the departure lounge for three hours in Terminal Three. A spokesman for Manchester Airport said the campaigners had mistimed yesterday's demonstration. "Terminal Three is at its busiest from 5am to 7am," he said. "They arrived at 7.30am, so they missed the main peak". The Department for Transport insisted it took climate change "very seriously".
They were among 300 people who took part in an hour-long 'flashmob protest' during the opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 in March 2008, against proposals to build a third runway for Heathrow Airport. Leila Dean, 29, from Plane Stupid, said: "We came here because we are supporting the 700 villagers who will lose their homes if the plans go ahead and environmental campaigners have said the building the 3rd runway would leave the government's legal commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 in tatters. Geoff Hoon said that tough measures would be put in place to limit noise and emissions. A spokesman for the BAA spokesman stated that “This pressure group would do far better to engage with the aviation industry in proper debate on climate issues rather than in publicity stunts.” and Michelle Di Leo, from Flying Matters commented that “Plane Stupid are indulging in irresponsible gestures.
Stansted Airport, December 2008
On 8 December 2008 Plane Stupid activists occupied a taxiway at London Stansted Airport. The campaigners raised a banner reading 'CLIMATE EMERGENCY' and wore high visibility vests with the message "Please DO something" printed on them. The protest occurred during the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznań at which representatives from over 180 countries attended, together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations to discuss the successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Plane Stupid said that "The nature of climate change means that we have only seven years to make massive cuts before the extinction of millions of species and even the human race is inevitable". They also said that they performed the protest "with heavy hearts, knowing it would disrupt passengers, because we knew the consequences of this action couldn't be worse than the consequences of inaction"
They breached security whilst the runway was closed and prevented it from re-opening as planned at 05:00 and 57 protesters were later arrested. BAA said protesters did not get on to the runway, but it was closed as a "precaution". Fifty-six Ryanair flights were cancelled and 56,000 passengers were delayed by the protest.
David Millward, Transport Editor for The Telegraph suggested that they should be called 'Plane Selfish' and Judge John Perkins told the court when sentencing 22 protesters to between 50 and 90 hours of community services that "Substantial loss was caused to the authorities that were carrying out lawful activities. I accept there is an honourable tradition of peaceful protest in this country, and long may it continue. But that does not justify the sort of activity that you were involved in." Ryanair is seeking £2.2 million in compensation for the disruption caused and almost £500,000 for "reputational damage" from BAA.
BAA formally withdrew its planning application for a second Stansted runway on 24 May 2010. 
Southampton Airport, February 2009
Aberdeen Airport, March 2009
On 3 March 2009, seven protesters from Plane Stupid occupied a taxiway at Aberdeen Airport, barricading themselves within a makeshift wire enclosure while two further protesters occupied the roof of the main terminal building. Protesters wore clothes parodying those of Donald Trump and displayed a banner reading 'Plane Stupid Golf Open 2009'. One young protestor said "“The reality is that our generation’s future is vanishing so that people like Donald Trump and his super-rich friends can jet into Aberdeen for a round of golf. The expansion of this airport just cannot go ahead."
Donald Trump is a supporter of plans to expand the airport, in the wake of approval of his controversial plans for his £300 million golf course and hotel complex near the city as does BAA Aberdeen, its managing director recently said “Everyone at the airport has been supporting the golf resort development as we believe this will bring major benefits to this region and to the whole of Scotland ... Mr Trump’s proposals also come at a particularly important point in time”. BAA is planning to extend the runway and expects a growth in passengers numbers from 3.4 million (2007) to 5.9 million by 2030.
The protest also delayed various other air traffic movements. A BAA spokesman condemned the actions as "highly irresponsible". One passenger explained "We'll hopefully get a later flight, but there were people next to me due to go to Disney World and they weren't happy ... I think they [the protesters] are terrorists - I think they should have been hosed down".
Nine of the activists involved were released on bail from Aberdeen Sheriff Court on 4 March after being charged with breach of the peace and vandalism in connection with the protest. They were banned from going near airports.
London City Airport September 2009
On 29 September 2009 Plane Stupid activists together with activists from Flight the Flights dressed up in business suits protested loudly at London City Airport on the first day of the new 'business-class only' trans-Alantic British Airways flight to New York. The service, which carries 32 passengers, was launched one week after Willie Walsh pledge to the United Nations that aviation would deliver deep cuts in carbon emissions over the coming decades. A spokesman for British Airways said the company was "absolutely committed to tackling aviation’s impacts on climate change".
Manchester Airport, May 2010
On 24th May 2010, two actions took place simultaneously at Manchester Airport. The first involved six people breaching the perimeter fence to form a human circle around the front wheel of a stationary Monarch Airline jet using arm tube lock ons. They remained for around 4 hours until they were cut out and forcibly removed by police. A second group used tripods to blockade the road entrance to the World Freight Terminal nearby preventing airfreighted goods from being taken in or out. They unfurled a banner reading: “More air freight = more climate change. Stop all airport expansion now." The actions took place in opposition to plans to expand the World Freight Centre including the demlition of local homes at Hasty Lane.
In answering charges of aggravated trespass in Trafford Magistartes Court in February 2011, the defendants called climate scientists as expert witnesses to provide evidence on the threats of aviation and climate change as well as local Councillors to discuss the democratic deficit in addressing the issues.
Camp for Climate Action, August 2007
In 2007 the Climate Camp, in its second year, chose to protest near London Heathrow Airport and on the last day of the week-long camp between 1,000 and 1,400 took part in a day of action. In the lead-up to the camp BAA applied for a wide-reaching an injunction which could have restricted the movement of over 5 million people near the airport and on approach routes to the airport. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, said that someone at BAA must be "out of their skull."
In the end BAA won a very much more limited injunction covering three named defendants - Joss Garman, Leo Murray and John Stewart - and any members of Plane Stupid, Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise and Airportwatch who acted unlawfully. Geraldine Nicholson of local residents' campaign No Third Runway Action Group (NoTRAG), was removed from the list of named defendants and awarded full legal costs from BAA, with the judge describing BAA's decision to make her a target of the injunction as 'regrettable', as NoTRAG had never been involved with or endorsed unlawful direct action of any kind.
The camp went ahead amid considerable worldwide publicity. During the camp Plane Stupid carried out protests at other aviation-related sites including Airbus, Farnborough and Biggin Hill. After the camp ended, Duncan Bonfield, BAA director of corporate affairs, and Mark Mann, BAA head of media relations, resigned without stating their reasons.
The group protested on the roof of EasyGroup's headquarters in November 2006 at the same time as the United Nations Climate talks in Nairobi. About 20 Easygroup staff were delayed getting into the building by an hour and a half. John Stewart explained their actions saying: "Tony Blair talks the talk about taking action on climate change while building more runways and allowing more planes at airports". An Easyjet spokeswoman said the firm took its environmental responsibilities "very seriously" and its fleet of 122 aircraft were fuel efficient and used the latest technology.
They disrupted the deliberations of a Transport Select Committee inquiry into the future of UK airports operator BAA in November. As BAA chairman Sir Nigel Rudd and chief executive Stephen Nelson were preparing to give evidence on problems at the airport, protesters began chanting 'no third runway at Heathrow' and handed out copies of a Tyndall Centre climate change report to MPs and members of the public before being removed by the police. A spokesman for Plane Stupid said 'Despite overwhelming evidence of the impact of carbon emissions from aviation - the government are deliberately ignoring concerns about climate change. The plan for a third runway flies in the face of the science and were it approved it would pollute more than the whole of Kenya'. Gwyneth Dunwoody, the committee chairman, dismissed the protest as childish.
During the 'Climate March' in London in December 2007, Plane Stupid activists claimed to have 'shut down' travel agents along the route. Their spokesman said: "These businesses continue, with full support from the government, to profit from wrecking our climate".
In January 2008 30 protests from Plane Stupid dressed as penguins took over the Natural History Museum's ice rink in protest at British Airways sponsorship of the museum's annual winter festivities saying that they were highlighting the irony of an airline creating an ice rink in central London, whilst its business activities are a major cause of global warming, which is melting the polar ice caps and causing dangerous climate change.
In February 2008 Plane Stupid launched a five-person strong roof-top protest on the UK's Houses of Parliament. Two large banners were unfurled, after security had been breached. The banners stated "BAA HQ" and the second stated the group's website and "No 3rd runway at Heathrow". They were up there for a total of around 2 hours then wound down their protest in police presence who escorted them down and arrested them. Gordon Brown told MPs decisions had to be made "in the chamber of this House and not on the roof of this House". A spokesman for the Society of British Aerospace Companies described the action as "tiresome" and that it would do "nothing more than peddle inaccurate propaganda". Sir Richard Mottram (a former Joint Intelligence Committee chairman) said had been surprised that the protesters had got onto the roof.
In April 2008 a number of protesters climbed onto the roof of the Scottish Parliament Building where they displayed banners reading "Choose a future - say no to airport expansion". They came down after five hours and two people were arrested. The house of one of the protestors was raided by police afterwards which the protestor considered to amount to harassment.
On 6 March 2009, protester Leila Deen threw green custard over Business Secretary Lord Mandelson at a low carbon summit hosted by Gordon Brown. The action was in protest at the frequent meetings between Roland Rudd, who represents airport operator BAA and Mandelson and other ministers in the run-up to Labour's decision to go ahead with plans for a third runway at Heathrow. During the conference several remarks were made regarding the matter, one of which he added, "I am prepared to take my fair share of the green revolution on my shoulders but I am less keen on having it in my face."
Plane Stupid activists disrupted the 'PR Week magazine awards' ceremony on 20 October 2009 after arriving in evening wear and 'hijacking' the table reserved for Virgin Atlantic. Five police vehicles and some 18 police officers arrived and after an hour of disruption the protesters were removed except for one activist who remained and heckled the host.
'Adopt a resident' scheme launched, 30 March 2009
Plane Stupid launched their 'Adopt a resident' where individual eco-activists are 'buddied' with residents of Sipson and will help them resist having their houses demolished as part of any future expansion of Heathrow 40 residents and activists were brought together at St Mary’s Church Hall in Harmondsworth on 30 March
Police and legal issues
Infiltration by 'spy', April 2008
In April 2008, Plane Stupid claimed that their group was infiltrated by an international espionage agency. The Times reported that Toby Kendall, 24, an employee of C2i International, had gone undercover in the group using the name of "Ken Tobias." Airport operator, BAA, who have often been a target of Plane Stupid's campaign, confirmed to The Times that they had been in contact with C2i International but denied ever hiring the company.
Domestic extremists? - November 2008
Plane Stupid (along with other environmental protesters) were reportedly being described as 'extremists' by the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit in November 2008. A campaigner explained on the Plane Stupid blog "My actions are informed not by dodgy internet blogs but by speaking with peer-reviewed scientists and by reading their reports ... I am not a terrorist nor an extremist. I am a rational, informed father... and NETCU scaremongering will not stop me". George Monbiot later commented that even a group of villagers campaigning against an attempt to turn their local lake into a dump for fly ash from a power station had found their names on a list of "domestic extremists".
Libel claim - December 2008
At the end of 2008, the group's website was taken offline temporarily by their web host, 1and1, following suggestions from their hosting company that they were libelling BAA.
In March 2009 four protesters were arrested for Breach of the Peace after a banner drop from a multi-story carpark at Edinburgh Airport which read "Airport expansion is stupid". Plane Stupid claimed that "the CID officers compared the group's leaders to Hitler and warned the protesters that dogs could have been set on them".
Police try to recruit informer, April 2009
- Air transport and the environment (United Kingdom)
- Camp for Climate Action
- Climate Rush
- Environmental direct action in the United Kingdom
- Flying Matters
- Plane Mad
- Leake, Jonathan, Google Earth showed protesters way to conquer parliament, The Sunday Times 2 March 2008, Accessed 8 March 2009
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- http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/31/activists.prisonsandprobation?gusrc=rssQKamp%3Bfeed=society Decca Aitkenhead The Guardian 31 May 2008 'Life in prison? Bring it on'
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