GENEVA: Activists demonstrating against Europe’s biggest private jets sales fair disrupted flights at Geneva Airport on Tuesday (May 23) after chaining themselves to the planes on display.
Environmentalist groups said around 100 demonstrators from 17 countries were involved in the protest at the three-day European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) being staged at a conference hall adjoining Switzerland’s second-biggest airport.
Geneva police spokeswoman Tiffany Cudre-Mauroux told AFP that around 80 people had been detained.
Images published on Twitter showed the activists camped out around the gleaming planes on show on the apron, brandishing colourful banners with the words “ban private jets” and “private jets burn our future”.
They also held up messages resembling warning labels on cigarette packages, saying “private jets drown our hope”.
In a statement, Geneva Airport said several dozen activists “broke and entered three different locations on the tarmac at 11.35am.”
They managed to infiltrate the EBACE exhibition space “and handcuff or chain themselves to the aircraft on display”.
During the evacuation operation, air traffic was completely suspended from 11.40am to 12.40pm and seven inbound flights were diverted to Zurich and Lyon.
Firefighters treated four people, including activists and security staff, who were injured or unwell.
“Significant delays” are expected throughout the rest of the day, the airport said. The airport intends to file a legal complaint.
Departures to Rome, Amsterdam, Porto, Madrid, New York, Lisbon, Paris, Munich and Frankfurt were among those delayed, with some held up for more than two hours.
But there were no signs of panic amid the queuers inside the departures hall.
SYMBOL OF CLIMATE INEQUALITY
Multiple climate activist groups were involved in the joint protest. Speaking outside the airport perimeter, they insisted the intention had been to disrupt the sales fair and not regular commercial flights.
Joel Perret of Extinction Rebellion Geneva told AFP: “The goal was really to target private jets, which are the most polluting mode of transport there is – and are only accessible to an extreme minority of people, who will spend the carbon budget of all the other people who never fly.”
“Private aviation has become the symbol of climate inequality,” said Klara Maria Schenk of Greenpeace.
EBACE “has happened for more than 20 years, mostly behind closed doors, with very little attention from the public”, she said.
Mira Kapfinger of the Stay Grounded network added: “The world is now looking at this event and aware of this hypocrisy of promoting private jet sales … in a time of climate emergency, a cost of living crisis and an energy crisis.”
Cordula Markert, spokeswoman for Scientist Rebellion Germany told AFP: “I cannot believe that people with so much power and money are not using it for good.”
“They must know, especially in aviation, there is no green way of having private jets. Deep down, all of them know it.”
SECTOR ‘FOCUSED ON NET-ZERO’
EBACE is hosted by the European Business Aviation Association and the US-based National Business Aviation Association.
“This is a completely unacceptable form of protest. We condemn the action,” EBAA chairman Juergen Wiese and NBAA president and chief executive Ed Bolen said in a joint statement.
“Business aviation is deeply committed to climate action. This is an industry that has cut its carbon emissions by 40 per cent over the past 40 years, is continually reducing emissions today, and is collectively focused on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Geneva Airport chief operating officer Giovanni Russo told the event that sustainability was “not just our licence to grow” as an air hub, “but our licence to survive”.
In 2022, more than 14 million passengers travelled through the airport, according to official figures.