General News

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

 

The harms to health caused by aviation noise require urgent action

In October 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its long awaited new guidelines for environmental noise.  These make source-specific recommendations for noise from aviation, as well as road, rail, wind turbines, and leisure. They include tough new lower thresholds set for aviation noise, reflecting the growing body of evidence about the harmful effects of noise on health  - that fall disproportionately on the vulnerable, particularly children, and the infirm and older people. Writing in a blog in the British Medical Journal, the writers say health impact assessments of aircraft noise, if they were carried out, lacked transparency as they were often undertaken by airport operators. Seemingly there has been a reluctance to protect the health of the population in the face of commercial pressures pursuing economic benefits. Unless urgent action is taken using the new WHO recommendations for lower thresholds, the health of communities residing near airports will continue to show marked deterioration.  We need policies and actions to ensure there is an equitable balance between economic benefit and the health and wellbeing of communities. The cost and long-term consequences of inaction will be considerable.

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Heathrow 3rd runway plans reveal the monster airport proposed – how uniquely expensive, harmful and damaging it would be

With the publication of the Heathrow consultation documents comes realisation of what a massive, uniquely damaging and harmful plan it is. A few comments from Alistair Osborne in the Times: "The project is the equivalent of dropping Gatwick airport on to one of the world’s busiest motorways: 12 zippy lanes, no less, of the M25"... and "It can all be done without any “significant” disruption, while maintaining the traffic flow of 220,000 vehicles a day. Who says so? Heathrow, of course — despite the small matter of “realigning the M25 carriageway”, sinking it by 4.5m in a tunnel and having planes land on top. Not only that. Heathrow will be adding at least 260,000 flights a year and 50 million more passengers" ... " But, apparently, they won’t lead to a single extra car on the roads. Or any more trucks, despite the doubling of cargo capacity to “at least three million tonnes” a year. No, it’s all coming by bicycle or some green equivalent. And don’t worry about the costs because “Heathrow expansion will be privately financed and costs will not fall on the taxpayer”.... "It’s pure fantasy. Indeed, ask Heathrow how much of the £14 billion is for diverting the M25 and the company has no answer.... Apparently, a cost breakdown will be delivered to the CAA by the end of the year."

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Heathrow consultation starts – trying to cover up the devastating impacts the 3rd runway would have, in so many ways…

The main Heathrow consultation - before the DCO consultation - on its proposed 3rd runway has opened. It closes on 13th September. It is a massive consultation, with dozens and dozens of long documents - making it impossible, in reality, for a layperson to read.  Below are links to the key documents. Heathrow says it is proposing "tough new measures to reduce emissions". It proposes a slight increase in the amount of time when scheduled flights are not allowed at night - just 6.5 hours (that does NOT include planes that take off late....) so little change there. This is a statutory consultation (the earlier ones were not) and Heathrow says it "will inform the airport’s Development Consent Order (DCO) application, which is expected to be submitted next year."  There will be 43 consultation events to be held during the 12-week consultation period. Heathrow says its "expansion will be privately financed and costs will not fall on the taxpayer." It will be interesting to see how they pay for the work to bridge the M25, paying for it all themselves. There is no information on flight paths, as those will not be decided upon until perhaps 2023. They use only indicative flight paths. There expected to be more flights, even before the runway is built, by 2022.

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Maybe night trains will return, for middle distance trips around Europe…

Unfortunately, overnight train routes have long been in decline, due mainly to the growing popularity of cheap flights. German rail operator Deutsche Bahn ended all of its night routes, selling off the entirety of its sleeping carriages, while in France, the last Paris-to-Nice sleeping train service was discontinued in 2017. There has been a lot of campaigning to keep the night trains, which offer a far lower-carbon travel alternative to flying, for distances that take too long for a daytime trip. The Back on Track group has been lobbying rail operators and governments, and organizing protests. There seems to be a slight improvement, with Austria’s ÖBB buying Deutsche Bahn’s unwanted sleeping carriages, and even ordering more new ones for 2023. The Swedish government has announced plans to expand overnight trains to many European destinations. The Swiss rail operator SBB has said it is considering renewed night routes, citing market demand. In France, activists saved a popular sleeping-car route between Paris, Perpignan and the Spanish border town of Portbou. In the UK we have the recently upgraded Caledonian Sleeper, from London to Scotland. More people need to ask for night routes.

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Heathrow plans its 3rd runway to bridge the M25 in 3 sections – one runway and two separate taxiways

The Times has published images from Heathrow, showing their plans for expansion (consultation due to start of 18th) including what they do to get the runway over the 12 lane M25 (the busiest section of motorway in the UK, and probably in Europe). Heathrow has only ever said it would be just over £1 billion for the work, though it would cost much more. The plan appears to be for the M25 to be lowered a bit, into a tunnel. There would be two separate taxiways over the motorway, with the planes probably visible to drivers travelling below. Also a wider section on which would be the runway itself. Distracting for drivers?  Heathrow claims having two openings in the tunnel between the taxiways and runway would "improve stability, ventilation and visibility on the road."  Might it also be cheaper?  The Times says: "Plans to cross the M25 have been revised after talks with Highways England, which had raised concerns about the risk of damage to the tunnel by landing aircraft. It was also feared that drivers may be distracted by planes overhead."  Nowhere else in the world is a road a busy as the M25 crossed by a runway or taxiways.  Heathrow will seek to soften the impact of expansion by spreading the work over as long as 30 years - easier to pay for.

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Prof Kevin Anderson: With the aviation growth anticipated by the UK government, “any claim made of the UK being zero carbon by 2050, is simply not true”

In response to the UK  government saying it will raise its ambition to cut CO2 emissions, by 2050, to 100%  (up from the current 80%) compared to 1990, Professor Kevin Anderson has a lot of caveats.  He says: “Whilst in many respects I welcome the headline framing of the Government’s ‘net-zero’ proposal, sift amongst the […]

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Flying may go from glamorous to scandalous, with the highest level of awareness about climate and carbon

"Flying has gone from glamorous to scandalous, and the industry is scrambling to prop up its fading popularity."  Might aviation soon become something that people are slightly embarrassed about, and mildly ashamed? The level of public anxiety is increasing, about rising CO2 emissions, and the highly damaging impact on people's lives (even in rich countries like the UK), within the next few decades. That is in the lifetimes of those alive now.  Not at some far off future date.  Across Europe, campaigns to reduce air travel emissions are gaining traction. Violeta Bulc, European commissioner for transport, said: “In the future, I expect the aviation industry’s license for growth to be linked directly to perceptions of sustainability”. There is little sign of awareness reducing the numbers flying, in the UK - but there is a perceptible change in attitude, by a lot of people. "Politico" says: "A succession of European governments — left and right alike — are mulling aviation taxes, an end to traditionally heavy subsidies, and are reconsidering airport expansion plans. Airlines are on the defensive. Even as they look forward to transporting ever more passengers  — carriers worry that the protests could prompt government intervention and jeopardize those projections."

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UN Environment article critical of carbon offsetting taken down, then republished – but criticism watered down

"UN Environment" published, then retracted, an article criticising the use of carbon credits to make up for carbon-emitting activities. It published an unusually stark critique of carbon offsetting on 10th June (been archived); on 11th the article was taken down, following queries by Climate Home News.  In the original article a climate specialist at the UN organisation warned against considering carbon offsets as “our get-out-jail-free card”. He said: “The era of carbon offsets is drawing to a close. Buying carbon credits in exchange for a clean conscience while you carry on flying, buying diesel cars and powering your home with fossil fuels is no longer acceptable or widely accepted.”  Asked about this he said it was a web story not an official position paper, and that UN Environment does see offsets as an intermediate solution.  The revised article on the 12th removed the comment above, saying instead that buying carbon credits is "being challenged by people concerned about climate change." The paragraph in the earlier version saying: "Carbon credits are increasingly coming under fire for essentially allowing some to continue on their polluting ways while the rest of us are left scrambling to contain the climate crisis" was removed in the later version. Carbon offsets are the way the aviation sector intends to carry on increasing its carbon emissions. The earlier article showed how inadequate that would be.

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Theresa May commits to net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050 – but aviation not properly included in that

Theresa May has sought to cement some legacy in the weeks before she steps down as prime minister by enshrining in law a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so. This is an increase from the current target of an 80% cut on the 1990 level, by 2050.  However, it is a far cry from a net zero target by 2025, that Extinction Rebellion has called for. The change is in an amendment to the Climate Change Act (2008) that was laid in parliament today.   The wording just makes the change from 80% to 100%.  This does make the UK the first member of the G7 nations to legislate for net zero emissions. It is a step in the right direction. However, it is a NET target, not a gross one, so it will depend on buying carbon offsets (often ineffective) from other countries (usually poorer countries), rather than the UK actually cutting CO2 emissions that much. It excludes the embodied carbon in imports. AND it does not properly include international aviation and shipping.  The government just says: "For now, therefore, we will continue to leave headroom for emissions from international aviation and shipping in carbon budgets..."

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SSE tells Uttlesford Council to end the secrecy and intrigue about its handing of Stansted’s planning application

The Chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), Peter Sanders, has written to the Chief Executive of Uttlesford District Council (UDC), urging her to bring an end to the veil of secrecy which has surrounded UDC's handling of the 2018 Stansted Airport planning application (to increase the passenger maximum from 35 to 43 million) over the past two months. UDC granted conditional approval on 14th November 2018. But it is now clear that the conditions laid down by the Planning Committee have not been met.  The Committee also has a legal duty to consider any new material factors and changes (SSE has 6 examples) in circumstances that have arisen since November.  But UDC officers continue to refuse to discuss any of the above matters with SSE.  Instead, secret meetings have been held, with no minutes or other formal records. There is to be a council meeting on 28th June, including the legal advice the council has been given. SSE says it is hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that officers are trying to avoid any further public discussion of the outstanding issues in relation to the airport planning application, and issue final approval regardless of the outstanding concerns. 

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