Paris’s Orly airport reopened on Friday after three months closure during the coronavirus pandemic, but traffic was thin and also briefly disrupted by climate protesters storming the runway.
A plane operated by low-cost carrier Transavia took off for the Portuguese city of Porto, the first commercial flight since the number two Paris airport came to a halt on March 31. Two firetrucks on either side of the plane shot arcs of water over the stationary aircraft in celebration, with the passengers inside waiting to taxi to the runway.
But hours later, Extinction Rebellion activists stormed the runway, lit flares and attached themselves to bicycles with locks around their necks to protest the bailing out of the aviation industry, which suffered huge losses with the grounding of air traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twenty-nine people were arrested including a journalist from ecological news website Reporterre, according to an Extinction Rebellion tweet. Before their arrest, the activists rolled out banners saying “let’s save the living not airplanes” and “15 billion to relaunch the catastrophe”, in reference to the French government 15 billion euros (around $17 billion) bailout for the aviation industry.
“It’s symbolic to face a plane, to face what is putting us in danger,” one of the group’s activists, who gave his name as Franck, told AFP over the phone. The activists warned the airport’s security 20 minutes before they stormed the runway, Franck said, and added that he was surprised by the time it took French police to react.
“It says a lot about the airport’s security, anyone can enter,” Franck said. “The government is trying to do a publicity stunt by outlawing a couple of domestic flights, but at the same time it is financing the revival of the aviation industry with billions of public money. Where is the logic?” said Extinction Rebellion in a statement.
Some 8,000 passengers were expected on Friday, less than 10 percent of the daily pre-virus average of around 90,000. They will be on more than 70 flights compared to the normal run of 600 a day. Traffic is due to increase to 200 flights daily in July but it will depend much on whether Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia reopen their borders as well as on whether the virus remains under control.
For nearly three months, all commercial flights from Paris have taken off from the main Charles de Gaulle airport, to the north of the capital. In May, traffic plummeted by almost 98 percent at Charles de Gaulle, with only 200,000 passengers coursing through its halls, a snapshot of the damage done to global aviation.
The International Air Transport Association said earlier this month that the world’s airlines were one course for a combined net loss of more than $84 billion this year. Orly has taken measures to check the spread of the coronavirus, with more than 7,000 posters and stickers to keep people at a safe distance, hand sanitisers, and plastic windows at check-in desks and other counters.
Extinction Rebellion carried out a similar action at London Heathrow airport in October last year. The group wants governments to adopt policies that cut harmful emissions to a net level of zero by 2025.