Tuesday’s protests at EBACE 2023 weren’t the first time demonstrators have disrupted a business aviation event, and they certainly won’t be the last. As recently as last February, protesters disrupted EBAA’s Air Ops conference in Brussels after reportedly managing to register for the event based on a bogus connection with an industry executive.
Before that—in November—eco-protesters on bikes barged into the business aviation enclave at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, disrupting traffic. And on Tuesday, ahead of a peaceful and officially sanctioned protest outside EBACE venue Palexpo, demonstrators forcefully broke into the show’s static display, handcuffing themselves to aircraft and stopping flights at Geneva Airport for almost an hour, driving up carbon emissions as aircraft had to stay in holding patterns or divert. Reportedly, most of the disruptors were arrested.
At a Wednesday morning EBACE panel session on the future of the industry, business leaders agreed that there will be more to come as groups committed to stopping private flying altogether court confrontation. Eric Schouten—the CEO and founder of Dyami Security Services who prepared a threat assessment for show organizers—told AIN that the protest groups are getting harder to track. Bill Dolny, CEO of Arizona-based MedAire, said he feared that the fervent protests he has witnessed in Europe will be replicated in the U.S. before too long.
And it’s not just protesters who are on the warpath. On Tuesday, France’s transport minister Clément Beaune confirmed the introduction of his long-threatened ban on domestic airline flights between the cities of Nantes, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Paris Orly Airport on the basis that train services are available for these routes with a travel time of less than 2.5 hours.
The directive, which Beaune said has been cleared by the European Commission, is the first such ban in the world. The question is whether it will be the last and whether measures like this could be extended to private aviation, not to mention if other governments will follow suit.
At EBACE this week, business aviation’s focus on its responsibility to reduce carbon emissions has been intense, with a growing consensus among industry leaders that failure is not an option. Like the airline industry, business aviation has set a goal of net zero by 2050. The trouble is that, evidently, the protesters don’t care—they’ve already tried the industry in the court of public opinion and found it guilty.
And private aviation’s alleged crimes go beyond environmental damage. Speakers at the official protest this week whipped up resentment against the “0.1 percent of the 1 percent,” who they say are responsible for all manner of social injustice and wealth inequality.
At Wednesday’s panel session, Ian Petts, head of yachting and aviation services at Equiom Monaco, urged the industry to redouble their efforts to talk up business aviation’s contributions to the economy. He added that companies must urgently recruit a more diverse workforce in a way that could break through stereotypes about its profile.
Fellow panelists called for stronger incentives for operators to run their aircraft on sustainable aviation fuel and government-backed mandates to induce oil companies to achieve a quantum leap in boosting supplies. They also said the industry would be well advised to get squarely behind efforts to electrify aviation and make new eVTOL and hybrid-powered aircraft part of their service mix.