Greta Thunberg has said users of Farnborough Airport cannot be allowed to maintain their "extreme lifestyles" at the cost of "present and future living conditions on this planet".
The Swedish environmental activist, 21, joined Extinction Rebellion’s ‘family-friendly’ protest against Farnborough Airport’s expansion on Saturday, January 27 – thrusting the fight against private jet usage into the international limelight.
Around 1,000 people marched from Farnborough town centre to the gates of the airport in opposition to plans to increase its cap on flight from 50,000 to 70,000 per year.
Greta led the column of marchers holding a banner calling to 'Ban Private Jets', and said: "It is clear that private jets are incompatible with ensuring present and future living conditions on this planet, so we're not going to let this continue.
"We're not going to let the rich few who are responsible for the majority of aviation emissions get away with sacrificing people and the planet to maintain their extreme lifestyles."
Farnborough Airport is used mostly by private jets, and says the uplift – including a doubling of allowed weekend flights – would meet demand for business trips.
But Extinction Rebellion is calling for a total ban on private jets, which they say are up to 30 times more polluting than passenger airliners.
Greta added: “The fact that using private jets is both legally and socially allowed today in an escalating climate emergency is completely detached from reality.
“There are few examples that show as clearly how the rich elite is sacrificing present and future living conditions on this planet so they can maintain their extreme and violent lifestyles.”
The demonstration was organised by the local Extinction Rebellion Waverley and Borders branch, which counts many members from Farnham, Alton, Haslemere and surrounding areas.
Protesters set off flares and were joined by ‘Lightship Greta’, XR Red Rebels and Rebel Rhythms samba band in Farnborough town centre from 11am, many holding banners proclaiming slogans such as ‘Flying to Extinction’, ‘Stop Private Flights Now’, ‘No to Airport Expansion’ and ‘Private Flights = Public Deaths’.
They then marched to the airport’s main gate where speakers addressed the crowd from the lightship’s helm.
TV broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham sent a pre-recorded speech, and Tilford-based campaigner Colin Shearn of the Farnborough Noise group addressed the crowd. Mr Shearn has an antisocial behaviour injunction served against him by Surrey Police for campaigning against the airport, designed to silence him.
Protestors from Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Alton Climate Action Network, The Quakers, XR Scientists, XR Families, as well as local councillors and residents also joined in.
A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion Waverley and Borders described the demonstration as “spectacular”.
This is the latest in a series of protests against the airport’s planning application, which seeks to more than double weekend flights and boost the use of heavier, more polluting private jets.
In 2022, there were 33,120 flights to and from the airport, a 27 per cent increase compared to 2021’s total of 26,007.
Flights to and from Farnborough averaged just 2.5 passengers per flight.
Currently 40 per cent of flights to and from the airport are empty, according to research by campaign group Possible.
And despite the airport claiming the majority of flights are for business use, the research showed that most Farnborough flights are headed to holiday destinations.
Last September a ‘pets on jets’ service launched to fly dogs and their owners from Dubai to Farnborough and back.
Farnborough Airport CEO Simon Geere has admitted many flights are for leisure – but said enhancing London’s “connectivity” with luxurious locations is key to encouraging big business in the capital.
Extinction Rebellion takes a different view.
Todd Smith, a former airline pilot and Extinction Rebellion spokesperson, said: “Flying is the fastest way to fry the planet, and private jets are the most polluting way to fly.
“Surely it’s a no brainer to ban private jets and stop expanding these luxury airports in the midst of a climate crisis?
“Survey after survey, as well as several citizens’ assemblies have shown this would be very popular and has widespread support from the general public.
“For most people, life has become more difficult. The cost of heating our homes, buying food and paying our bills has increased massively. So imagine looking out our windows to see yet more private jets flying billionaires around.
“Is this a fair society that we live in, or is there one set of rules for the majority, and another for the elites? Plans to expand the UK’s largest private jet airport seem to make this clear.”
Godalming resident Chris Neill, 67, a retired psychotherapist, said: “We’re in a global climate and ecological emergency. We need to reduce carbon emissions fast and there’s no realistic plan for taking the carbon out of jet fuel. Until there is, we need to fly much less, not more.
“This plan to expand a luxury airport used exclusively by very wealthy people at a time when ordinary people are struggling to manage everyday life is reckless, stupid and selfish. We need a government which has the courage to stop this.”
Finlay Asher, aerospace engineer and member of aviation workers group Safe Landing, added: “As aviation workers, we understand there’s a choice to be made about how we use our limited planetary resources.
“If we expand private jet flights, then this will consume a large slice of the pie, and leave nothing for anybody else.
“However, there is a positive way forward for society and for our industry: provide genuinely sustainable clean transport for the masses instead, rather than continuing to expand super-polluting private jet airports which cater only to a tiny minority of ultra-wealthy individuals.”
Sarah Hart,42, an office assistant from Farnborough, said: “As a local resident and a mum of two I am utterly appalled at the airport’s plan to expand when we should be banning private flying completely. We need to be taking drastic steps to ensure a liveable world for all our children, not increasing our use in fossil fuels.”
The airport’s planning application has been met with widespread opposition by local residents and environment and climate campaigners, with over 2,700 comments received, the vast majority of which are opposed to the plans. Rushmoor Borough Council is set to consider the application in March.