Friends of the Earth say the business case for airport capacity expansion does not stack up
As the debate continues over how to improve capacity at airports in London, or more relevantly, whether increased capacity is actually needed, Friends of the Earth says the concept is “nothing more than a political football” and the business case for expansion is not robust enough,” says Jane Thomas, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “A lot of this is political posturing, [which] costs communities and the environment a huge amount, so we urge politicians to be very mindful of that.” FoE stress that there is decreasing demand for air travel for business reasons, and this is not being taken into account in the debate by the aviation industry and its backers. More companies are able to use video conferences, and realise that executives can be more productive if not spending so much time travelling abroad – when contact can often be made electronically. In the UK, the majority of business is done with European countries, where increasingly high speed rail is replacing air. Recently RSPB, WWF and HACAN commissioned a report by CE Delft which showed that once a city reaches a certain level of “connectedness”, further expansion is unlikely to significantly affect the economy.
2 September 2013 • By Bonnie Gardiner
(Telegraph Business Reporter)
Environmental organisations are opposing plans for airport expansions in the UK, claiming that it is unsustainable and unnecessary.
As the debate continues over how to improve capacity at airports in London, environmental organisation Friends of the Earth says that the concept is “nothing more than a political football”.
“We don’t think that the business case for expansion is being made robustly enough,” says Jane Thomas, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
“This stuff is being kicked around like a political football. A lot of this is political posturing, and that costs the communities and the environment a huge amount, so we urge politicians to be very mindful of that.”
The stress in response to decreasing air travel for business reasons is not taking into account the different ways in which people can conduct business, insists Thomas.
“At the moment we are still the destination of choice. Business traffic is falling, but it’s because people are using video conferences; executives aren’t needed to jet around the world. People are doing business differently and this new model hasn’t been factored in.”
Thomas also notes that many regional companies conduct their business in Europe, where air travel is unnecessary with services such as Eurostar and the upcoming completion of HS2.
An alternative suggestion to free up airport capacity would be to scrap short-haul flights around the UK, for which there are already adequate alternatives.
“It’s ridiculous in Heathrow there are flights to Manchester, Leeds and Scotland,” says Thomas.
“You’ve got runways that are used for long-haul destinations that take on short-haul flights and that’s why the capacity at Heathrow is 97 per cent; poor usage of runway.”
London mayor Boris Johnson has long rallied for a new hub airport to be built in the Thames estuary, despite similar proposals being rejected since 1943 on economic and environmental grounds.
In May, the Commons Transport Committee said that the “Boris Island” and other estuary airport proposals would be hugely expensive, could harm wildlife and mean the closure of Heathrow.
The committee and the majority of airlines are in favour of building a third runway at Heathrow, while some would prefer expansion of Gatwick or Stansted.
Aviation is expected to account for one quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The RSPB, WWF UK and Heathrow campaign group HACAN submitted a report (see below) to the government, in which CE Delft found that once a city reaches a certain level of “connectedness”, further expansion is unlikely to significantly affect the economy. CE Delft report: The economics of airport expansion (55 pages)
The government’s airport commission, headed by Lord Davies, has been set up to examine aviation capacity and the need for expansion in greater detail, and will produce its final recommendations in a report to be published in 2015.
New CE Delft report finds: “claims about the economic benefits of connectivity are not founded on solid evidence”
April 22, 2013 An important new report, by CE Delft, has been published. It was commissioned by WWF, RSPB and HACAN, and its purpose is to assess whether it is true – as the aviation industry continually proclaims – that better “connectivity” will create greater economic growth for the UK. The report found that claims about the economic benefits of connectivity are not founded on solid evidence. The Airports Commission currently has a discussion document on aviation and connectivity, and this report – The Economics of Airport Expansion– is a contribution to this debate. The CE Delft report found there is a correlation between aviation activity and economic growth, However, there does not appear to be any evidence for a causal relationship between connectivity and economic growth. Causation and correlation are not the same thing. They also found that increasing connectivity is more beneficial for developing countries or regions than for developed economies, such as that of the UK. They also found that extra connectivity in cities that are already well-connected, like London, does not necessarily deliver measurable or substantial economic benefits. CE Delft also looked at some of the economic arguments being used by proponents of airport expansion and found them to be miscalculated and exaggerated, distorting the aviation debate. Click here to view full story…
CE Delft report: The economics of airport expansion (55 pages)
Friends of the Earth gave evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee in October 2012. This can be seen on the House of Commons website at
(19th October 2012)
Options for third Heathrow runway
17 July 2013 (Friends of the Earth)
Reacting to proposed options for a new runway at Heathrow airport today (Wednesday 17 July 2013), Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner Jane Thomas:
“Heathrow airport’s naked self-interest threatens to create further misery for communities living under its flight path and undermine UK efforts to tackle climate change.
“The argument that more airport capacity is essential for Britain is nonsense, London already has more flights to the world’s top business centres than its European competitors.”
Launch of UK aviation commission
2 November 2012
Responding to the launch today (Friday 2 November 2012), of the UK commission on aviation capacity led by Sir Howard Davies, and welcoming the news that the Commission will be required to consider environmental impacts, Friends of the Earth’s Senior Campaigner Jane Thomas, said:
“Without significant changes to the already hugely privileged aviation industry, we will fail to meet our climate change targets – the Commission must be led by the requirement to reduce carbon emissions.
“Aviation emissions cannot carry on growing in the years ahead – as this will lead to UK households, industry and commerce bearing more than their fair share of emissions cuts.
“Airport expansion makes no economic sense – the effect on the environment and on local communities is devastating.
“We welcome Sir Howard Davies comments this morning that climate change targets for 2050 will provide the framework for discussions on airport capacity.”
Notes to editors:
1. In 2009, the Committee on Climate Change examined the feasibility of the previous Government’s target for aviation emissions in 2050 to be no higher than 2005 levels. The UK Aviation industry was allowed to increase its 2005 emissions by 122 per cent from the 1990 Kyoto baseline whereas all other economic and social sectors have had to decrease emissions.
3. The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the Government to make a decision by the end of 2012 on whether aviation and shipping should be formally included in the UK’s carbon targets. For further information please see http://www.theccc.org.uk/reports/international-aviation-a-shipping