Climate protest disrupts reopening of Paris Orly airport after three-month shutdown

A Transavia flight bound for Porto, Portugal gets a "water salute" at Orly airport, Paris on June 26, 2020.
A Transavia flight bound for Porto, Portugal gets a "water salute" at Orly airport, Paris on June 26, 2020. © Charles Platiau, REUTERS

The French capital's Orly airport reopened on Friday after a three-month closure caused by 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 (around $17bn) bailout for the aviation industry.

'Says a lot about the airport's security'

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.

"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.

Gradual reopening

Some 8,000 passengers were expected on Friday, less than 10 percent of the daily average of around 90,000 before the virus crisis grounded aircraft worldwide.

Increased traffic in July will depend on whether Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia reopen their borders. and on whether the virus remains under control.

Orly is the French capital's second-largest hub after Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) north of Paris. Charles de Gaulle remained open throughout the country's Covid-19 lockdown, though traffic collapsed by almost 98 percent in the month of May.

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 €74 billion ($84bn) this year.

As part of new safety measures, Orly's operator Aéroports de Paris (ADP) has installed 137 Plexiglas screens at counters and 150 sanitiser dispensers, along with more than 7,000 posters and stickers to ensure social distancing.

Staff also used thermal cameras to check the temperatures of passengers. Others dressed in protective white suits and masks sprayed disinfectant on surfaces such as automatic check-in screens.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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