has been thrown into chaos after protesters forced the airport to close by chaining themselves to railings next to the runway.
More than 50 demonstrators from the Plane Stupid environmental group cut through fencing in the early hours of Monday morning, in a protest against plans to build a second runway.The airport reopened on Monday morning, some five hours after the security breach. However tens of thousands of passengers remained stranded as dozens of flights were cancelled and many others seriously delayed.
The incident, which is hugely embarrassing for airport operator BAA, is believed to be the first time demonstrators have managed to occupy one of Britain’s major airports.
The protesters used bolt-cutters to break through a perimeter fence at 3.15am and set up their protest camp. They chained and bolted themselves to security fencing they brought in with them.
It took police hours to cut them free and it was not until 8.30am - almost five hours after the protest had started - that the airport was able to resume flights.
Officers arrested 57 activists and took them away in an airport shuttle bus.
One protestor Lily Kember, 21, said in an interview with The Daily Mail: “It’s a bit cold but everyone is in good spirits. Being arrested is a terrifying prospect, but not nearly as terrifying as the threat of climate change.”
Ryanair was forced to cancel 52 flights in and out of the airport. In a statement it called for an investigation “as to why the BAA Stansted security has once again failed to keep Stansted secure and open to the travelling public”.
Ryanair went on: “It is unacceptable that the travel plans of thousands of passengers have been disrupted because BAA Stansted security have failed to remove a number of protesters.”
Plane Stupid issued a statement saying the disruption had stopped “the release of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere”.
The lobby group said aviation was the fastest growing source of emissions and already contributed to at least 13 per cent of the UK’s carbon budget.
The group were protesting against the decision by the Government in October to add another runway to the airport. It also pointed to plans for a new runway at Heathrow.
Last month, another organisation, Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), launched a High Court appeal against the decision.
SSE said the Government was disregarding the climate change and noise impacts of the expansion at the Essex airport.
Airport officials said there would be a review of airport security but also defended the quick action taken.
“We do not run a fortress, we run an airport. Security staff and police intercepted the protesters and no-one got on to the runway,” a spokesman said.
A statement from the airport added: “We are happy to engage in serious debates on airport expansion, and we respect people’s right to protest within the bonds of the law. However, any unlawful or irresponsible behaviour aimed at disrupting the smooth operation of the airport is unacceptable.
“People should engage in the relevant independent planning inquiries in an open, honest and safe way. We will, of course, investigate this incident and where there are lessons to learn we will do so.”