Thursday, August 02, 2007
Bah on BAA in Britain
You can't fix stupid, as the classic line by the standup comedian Ron White goes.
But you sure can define it. And today it takes only three letters: BAA.
The British Airports Authority (BAA) -- the company that runs Heathrow and other airports in Britain and around the world -- really hit the publicity jackpot when it went to court in London requesting a sweeping injunction against a planned week-long environmental protest near Heathrow starting Aug. 14.
The protest is called the Camp for Climate Action. Its organizers want to block any expansion of Heathrow, but more generally they want to draw attention to aviation as a source of CO2 emissions that contribute to the climate change crisis. They also intend, a statement says, to "raise awareness of the need to fly less."
Organizers of the encampment have said they plan at least one day of active protests to disrupt Heathrow operations. They said will not do anything illegal like attempt to block runways, though they been clear that other unspecified "peaceful" protest tactics are being planned. The encampment is to be held at so-far unspecified sites near the airport.
OK, that could mean problems, and BAA Heathrow of course has every right to make preparations to minimize them. After all, Heathrow already firmly holds the title as the world's most screwed-up major airport. Heathrow is designed to handle 45 million passengers a year, and it now handles more than 67 million. And hair-trigger British security authorities have added to the chaos with arbitrary new hassles.
But what does BAA Heathrow do? It rushes to the High Court in London applying for an injunction that, according to British press reports, would provide for the widespread arrest of protesters bound for the airport.
How, you might ask, could this amazing feat be accomplished in a democratic nation with ancient legal traditions with names like habeas corpus?
Well, BAA -- which is owned by the Spanish company Ferrovial -- asked the British court to give police the authority to pre-emptively arrest identifiable members of 15 separate environmental and preservation groups as they make their way to the airport. BAA included in its request the ability to have Heathrow-bound passengers arrested on the Piccadilly underground line, and even at Paddington Station, where protesters would board the BAA-owned Heathrow Express. The Piccadilly line has since been dropped from the request.
And who are these scary environmental groups? Well, some are well-known activists coalitions, including AirportWatch. PlaneStupid is another. Groups such as the National Trust also are among the suspects. You know the National Trust, the big preservation organization that looks after 612,000 acres of British countryside and coastline, as well as hundreds of historic properties?
The president of the National Trust is Prince Charles. The previous president was his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who is now presumably off the hook when the coppers come round looking for provocateurs. Up against the wall, Charley boy! Here's a coin to call yer old Mum.
The court is still trying to sort out BAA's application for the injunction.
[Update, Friday, Aug. 3 -- The High Court said it would rule Monday on the injunction request. Meanwhile, a leader of one of the protest groups said BAA's bungling had brought unanticipated widespread attention to the event. "BAA has done all my press work for me," said John Stewart, who heads Hacan Clearskies, a group of Heathrow-area residents who have organized to stop airport expansion and reduce noise. "The injunction is just one long press release for us." Stewart was quoted in the Richmond and Twickenham Times newspapers.]
BAA, digging itself deeper, reacted to the uproar and ridicule by really saying it only wanted to block illegal protesters bound for Heathrow, and maybe just their ringleaders. It was widely pointed out that (outside of Franco's Spain and similar prescient law-enforcement environments) you couldn't really tell who was going to be an illegal protester until they actually got to the airport sites and did something against the law.
As drafted, the injunction would conceivably cover 5 million citizens of Great Britain, the newspapers pointed out.
In a statement, BAA replied: "Contrary to media reports, the injunction will not affect anyone lawfully traveling to and from Heathrow Airport." [My italics] BAA said that the injunction "will only affect those individuals who wish to [my italics] conduct harassment, trespass, obstruction and/or use any unlawful means; to deter obstruct or prevent the lawful operation and/or development of the airport; or to prevent persons from traveling to, from or at the airport." [Uh, BAA's grammar and punctuation].
OK then. Glad you made that clear, BAA.
Meanwhile, if you're going through Heathrow in mid-August, watch what you wish for.
[Update, Aug. 6 -- The High Court granted BAA a narrowed version of its sweeping injunction request today in a ruling that nevertheless would have been described in the U.S. as a form of prior restraint, but which the British media seem to find unobjectionable.]