General News

Below are links to stories of general interest in relation to aviation and airports.

 

Warning at UN Biodiversity Conference that humanity’s rush into biofuels/biomass will devastate global biodiversity

Growing enough plants to provide biomass and biofuels, that are meant to slow climate change (climate breakdown) compared to burning fossil fuels, will need a biofuel land grab: a 10 to 30-fold rise in land devoted to these crops from the level now. This means the destruction of the habitats for plants and animals, seriously undermining the essential global biodiversity. This warning was spelt out at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt by Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the  Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES.  The latest IPCC report, on limiting climate warming to 1.5°C, had given “a sense of extreme urgency" for ways to cut CO2 emissions, fast. But this mean "tradeoffs and synergies between climate, biodiversity and land degradation.”  More land would be used for monocultures of plants like maize. Perhaps by 2050 up to 724 million hectares, an area almost the size of Australia, might be used for biofuel crops - compared to perhaps 15 to 30m ha now. There is very little "marginal land" that could be used for these crops (they need water etc, and decent soils). This use of biomass will inevitably have "negative consequences for biodiversity.”  By contrast, reforestation and forest protection helps reduce carbon more effectively.

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Response by Government to PQ on Heathrow road traffic indicates a 29% increase with a 3rd runway

In a Parliamentary Question by Andy Slaughter (MP for Hammersmith), he asked the Secretary of State for Transport, "what assessment he has made of the number of (a) light goods vehicles, (b) heavy goods vehicles and (c) private cars that access Heathrow airport on a daily basis." The reply by Jesse Norman, Minister of State at the DfT, said the figures for goods vehicles come from the Airports Commission [now fairly out of date] and the other figures for highway and public transport trips are from an October 2017 DfT document. Heathrow has often said there would be no more vehicles on the roads with a 3rd runway than currently. But the DfT figures indicate the trips by passengers and employees, by cars and taxis,  would be around 60 million in 2030 with no new runway, and about 77 million in 2030 with a 3rd runway. The numbers would be about 66 million by 2050, with no new runway; and about 85 million with a 3rd runway.  ie. a massive rise of around 29% above the number with no new runway, both in 2030 and in 2050. Mr Norman said, to try to overcome this difficulty,  "it will be for an applicant for development consent for the Heathrow Northwest runway scheme to submit a surface access strategy to the Planning Inspectorate alongside their application."

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Replies to PQs on Heathrow – possible review of NPS after CCC climate report in spring 2019?

In recent Parliamentary Questions, Zac Goldsmith asked the Climate Minister (BEIS) Claire Perry: "what assessment she has made of the effect of the expansion of Heathrow Airport on the ability of the UK to meet the net-zero emissions target by 2050." The response said "The Committee [on Climate Change] will also publish a report on aviation in Spring 2019. ... this will include consideration of the potential to reduce aviation emissions over the period to 2050 and beyond. The Government will consider carefully the Committee’s advice .... Subject to this review, the Government will consider whether it is appropriate to review the Airports National Policy Statement, in accordance with Section 6 of the Planning Act 2008."   Zac also asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer "what level of capital funding he plans to allocate for the delivery of improvements to rail access related to the expansion of Heathrow Airport." The reply by Liz Truss said (avoiding replying properly) the Government "will consider the need for a public funding contribution alongside an appropriate contribution from the airport on a case by case basis." And "The Government is supporting Heathrow Surface Access schemes subject to the development of a satisfactory business case and the agreement of acceptable terms with the Heathrow aviation industry." (sic)

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CCC concludes there is limited scope for biofuels for aviation – even that not without risks

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has been looking at the future role of biomass, to try to cut the UK's CO2 emissions. In their report  they look at how much biofuel the UK aviation sector should be expecting to use by 2050. The AEF has been assessing the CCC report, and say the UK aviation sector cannot rely on biofuel use to offset CO2 emissions growth. Only limited supply of sustainable biomass is likely to be available in future, and it should be used carefully to tackle climate change. The CCC warns that too much hope of biofuel use in future could delay or discourage work on other ways of reducing emissions (i.e. fuel efficiency and limiting demand for flying).” The CCC advises that we shouldn’t plan for aviation biofuel to exceed 10% of total aviation fuel use by 2050. More would risk diverting sustainable biomass from more carbon efficient uses, such as timber for construction, or industrial uses when combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). CO2 released by aircraft in flight cannot be captured. Significant emissions are associated with the manufacture of aviation biofuel from biomass. The CCC says CCS must be used in this biofuel manufacture, or otherwise producing and burning aviation biofuel could result in even higher emissions than simply burning fossil fuels.

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PhD study indicates flight ban until 6am could save £ millions on NHS prescriptions for health impacts

A PhD thesis by an economics researcher at Kings College London, Silvia Beghelli, looked at "The Health Effects of Noise and Air Pollution". She looked at the medications prescribed to patients in areas affected by Heathrow planes, and the medical costs of the health impacts. She looked at a trial performed over 5 months at Heathrow in 2012, when planes did not fly over designated areas in the early mornings, between 4:30am and 6am. She found that  fewer drugs were prescribed for respiratory and nervous system conditions in areas with the reduced air traffic. Mrs Beghelli cross-referenced NHS data with the trial’s findings and found a link between air traffic and health, notably a 5.8% decrease in spending on pills including anxiolytics for conditions such as insomnia, anxiety and depression in the no-fly zones. As well as meaning the quality of health of people in these areas must have been better, the lower prescribing saved the NHS money. She calculated that modifying flight schedules could save £5 million in NHS prescription costs. It could also cut demand for hospital appointments. The study suggests that early morning planes are causing people to need more prescriptions.

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T&E warns that the EU only has till 1st December to save its right to regulate European aviation CO2 emissions

ICAO has been ineffective on aviation  CO2, as it is heavily influenced by the aviation industry and operates in near complete secrecy. For decades it has done very little to act on aviation’s surging CO2 emissions. Worse, ICAO’s flagship climate measure, CORSIA risks being the end, not the start, of climate action in aviation around the world and a real threat to the EU ETS in particular. While the Paris agreement aims to get increasingly effective actions to cut CO2, CORSIA sets a cap on carbon ambition and, in particular, on EU action. While the EU ETS has a means to cut aviation CO2, CORSIA is neither really global, nor much of an incentive to reduce carbon emissions. That is why airlines love it.  It will hardly affect them, or their growth or profits.  But by 1st December the EU must notify ICAO of its intention to continue European legislation, to keep aviation in the ETS. The aviation ETS isn’t perfect, and is only for intra-European flights, but it’s worth fighting for. The alternative, CORSIA, will have almost no effect in reducing CO2 from global aviation. The EU needs to ensure it can introduce CORSIA in a way that is compatible with EU current and future climate rules. Airline lobbyists are trying to prevent this.

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By January airlines have to start reporting their CO2 emissions, in preparation for the start of CORSIA

By January, all ICAO Council member states with aircraft operators doing a lot of international flights have to start compiling and transmitting their airlines’ CO2 emissions information. ICAO will gather this, to get ready for the start of its CORSIA "market based measure" plan (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation). Its aim is to try to have (sic) "carbon neutral growth" from 2020. The pilot phase starts in 2021. From January 2019 all airlines producing annual CO2 emissions above 10,000 tonnes will need to measure their emissions on cross-border flights, so a calculation of a sectoral 2020 emission baseline can be made of the average of 2019 and 2020. There are two bits of jargon for CORSIA; the emissions monitoring plan (EMP) and the CO2 emissions reporting tool (CERT). Airlines will need to submit their EMP to their administering state, the country where their aircraft are registered, by February 28, 2019, or preferably earlier.  The CERT needs origin, destination, aircraft type, and number of flights for each airline for the year. There is more jargon - the SARP (standards and recommended practices) and the MRV (monitoring, reporting, and verification) requirements ... We may hear more of these in coming years ...

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Time to focus on the real environmental costs of tourism; not only plastic, but the carbon from air travel

Tourists, going on holidays - including high-CO2 long-haul trips - are being encouraged to cut down on the amount of plastic they use etc. Great to be reducing the number of plastic straws, water bottles and other single-use plastics etc, but this really is barely touching the surface of the environmental problems caused by tourism. In a blog, Chris Haslam, of he Sunday Times, says that while the travel companies like Thomas Cook are "jumping on the sustainability bandwagon" - is this corporate responsibility or virtue-signalling? People can see bits of plastic. They, conveniently, cannot see the CO2 emissions they cause. Travel companies used to try to sell customers carbon offsets for their trips, but no longer seem to.  Air travel is a uniquely fast way to cause the emission of a huge proportion of an individual's annual carbon footprint.  “No other human activity pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air travel,” says Dr Roger Tyers, an environmental sociologist at Southampton University. "... [the aviation industry] tell us that engineers and inventors will come to the rescue, that politicians and passengers need do nothing. ... [but] Climate change will be a real problem unless we do something about our addiction to cheap and plentiful flying.”

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Uttlesford DC approves Stansted expansion plan, only by Chairman’s casting vote – but plans may now be “called in”

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has expressed dismay and disappointment that the vote on 14th November)by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) Planning Committee granted approval for Stansted’s planning application to grow - to an annual throughput of 43 million passengers per annum (from the 35 million cap now).  If this approval is allowed to stand, it would mean that Stansted could increase its flights by 44% and its passenger throughput by 66% compared, to last year’s levels.  The Planning Committee, comprising ten elected Uttlesford councillors, split right down the middle with 5 in favour of the application (including the Planning Committee Chairman) and 5 against.  Where there is a split vote, the Council rulebook gives the Chairman an additional (casting) vote - so he gets 2 votes.  Both BBC and ITV regional news teams filmed the session, which was attended by many local people.  UDC cannot issue a decision notice until the Sec of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (James Brokenshire) has considered whether the application should be called in. This should have been done already, as the planned expansion is very near the threshold necessary - of an increase by 10 million annual passengers.  SSE will now submit further representations to the Secretary of State asking him (again) to call in the application. They are currently also legally challenging the decision.

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Tests in the US to see if people tolerate booms, from proposed supersonic business jets (for the extra rich)

A long BuzzFeed article looks in detail at the problems of companies trying to bring back supersonic jets, like Concorde, just to cut a few hours off flights for those rich enough to afford them.  The interest in developing these planes was galvanised on October 5th, when President Donald Trump signed a FAA bill directing NASA to start consulting with the aviation industry to restart supersonic passenger travel. The problems remain the horrible sonic boom, that is a pressure wave, that hits anyone/anything on the ground, as the plane flies so fast nearby. Earlier studies indicated people really hated it, and it was dangerous. The shock of the bang could cause heart attacks, car accidents, "people to fall off ladders"etc.  Research earlier in the USA indicated that people did not become more tolerant of the bang, but less so. Supersonic flights by Concorde were banned over the USA. Now some US companies are looking at supersonic business flights again, but they are hugely wasteful in terms of fuel and high CO2 emissions. The ICCT said the jets would emit 40% more nitrogen oxides and 70% more CO2 than subsonic ones; they burn about 5-7 times as much fuel per passenger (not that Trump would care...)

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