General News

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

 

Environment minister Zac Goldsmith says ‘bonkers’ Heathrow expansion ‘unlikely’ to go ahead, and would not survive a proper review

Zac Goldsmith, the environment minister, said he did not believe the plans for a Heathrow 3rd runway would survive a government-commissioned review - despite the Commons backing it last year. In mid August, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the project could still be scrapped after questioning whether it “stacks up” financially.  Zac said of the runway plan: “I think it’s a bonkers scheme, and all the arguments that I’ve been using for the last ten years and repeating ad nauseam are true, in my view, and I see nothing to persuade me that they’re wrong… It’s currently out of government hands because it’s been through parliament.... Unfortunately, Parliament voted for it overwhelmingly – I’m still surprised by some of the MPs who voted for it, who nevertheless campaign heavily on things like climate change and air quality, but they did.”  He added that the airport will “struggle to come up with the cash”, so needing the Government to stomp up “really vast sums of money”, which the public would oppose. An “entirely objective” review into the plans would find that it was “a bad project”, and it may not survive the detailed planning and policy processes.

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Sutton Council reconfirmed its determination to fight 3rd Heathrow runway plan, and that it has joined the No 3rd Runway Coalition

Sutton Council has been opposed to a 3rd runway at Heathrow Airport for many years, due to the negative impact on noise, air pollution, the local environment and roads and public transport. Cllr Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council, said: “We’ve been campaigning against Heathrow expansion for over a decade but given this government's support of the plans, it is important to reconfirm our clear position against Heathrow expansion. We want our residents to know that we share their concerns, that the expansion is not a done deal and that they can count on the Sutton Liberal Democrats to work tirelessly with the “No 3rd Runway coalition” and others partners to continue this fight. The Conservative government is wrong to press ahead with this highly contentious, damaging policy and we will oppose them all the way.” The Council document said Heathrow plans took "no account of the recent announcements on climate change, in particular the declarations of a climate emergency by boroughs across London and the key issue of achieving carbon neutrality that these declarations raise."  On 22 July 2019, Sutton council declared a climate emergency. 

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Lower Stansted passenger numbers recently shows there is no urgency for agreement to allow expansion

After 63 consecutive months of year-on-year growth, Stansted Airport has posted a reduction in passenger numbers in each of the past three months (July, August, September).  Passenger numbers were down 0.5% in July, down 3.7% in August and down 2.7% in September, compared to a year earlier.  The overall reduction over the 3 month period was some 200,000 passengers, equivalent to a year on year decline of 2.3%.  Luton posted a 7.3% increase for three months to 31 August with 5.3 million passengers.  (Luton and other airport numbers from the CAA for September are not yet available).  One reason for the fall in numbers at Stansted is the late arrival of Boeing 737 Max planes to Ryanair. Stansted's passenger numbers are also expected to be down in October, partly due to the collapse of Thomas Cook at the end of September.  Stansted's cargo tonnage was down with a loss of 28,000 tonnes (11%) on a year-on-year basis, with the number of cargo aircraft using Stansted is down 6% compared to 2018. All that shows there is NO urgency to allow Stansted higher annual passenger numbers. SSE said: "At the very least, Uttlesford District Council should do nothing until we all know the outcome of SSE's legal challenge in the High Court, which takes place from 12th-14th November."   

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Flybe (now “Virgin Connect”) could drop unprofitable flight routes that are better done by road or rail

The new boss of Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, says it could axe some routes, if they are being out-competed by rail.  Flybe has been renamed "Virgin Connect" after being taken over by the Connect Airways consortium of operators featuring Virgin Atlantic.  "Virgin Connect" may stop flying between airports where the journey can be made easily by train or car - and the airline needs to cut costs.  Its CEO said  "maybe in the future we’ll get behind that as well.” The routes in the UK that should not be served by air routes, but by rail, include Manchester-Glasgow, Birmingham-Edinburgh, Exeter-Manchester and Exeter-London City. The flight-shaming movement, which has grown in recent months, encourages people to stop travelling by air, and this will hit these short haul trips, making them unprofitable for airlines like "Virgin Connect". So this is face-saving.  It is often faster and more convenient to travel direct to a city centre, by train, rather than to an airport outside the city. Dutch airline KLM will reduce the number of flights it operates between Amsterdam and Brussels from 5 to 4 each day, from March 2020 by offering customers a seat on a high-speed train. 

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At Heathrow legal appeal hearings, lawyers for WWF UK say 3rd runway would violate climate rights of children

The High Court is hearing appeals, against the decision by the government to designate the Airports NPS, despite strong arguments - including those on carbon emissions, why it should be refused. The appeals (also one by "Heathrow Hub") are due to last 5 days, and are by the Mayor of London, four councils, and Greenpeace; also by Friends of the Earth; and Plan B Earth.  Lawyers are arguing that the rights of children were not taken into account by the government when it approved the third runway. The Court has allowed the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to submit documents arguing the planned expansion violates the rights of children and future generations under the UN convention on the rights of the child. Our children and grandchildren will face the greatest impact of the climate crisis. The High Court ruled in spring that the government’s decision to allow a 3rd runway was lawful. Since then, it has signed into law a commitment for the UK to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The intervention by WWF comes after young people spearheaded the biggest climate change protest in history last month, and follows Greta Thunberg’s challenge to world leaders that their inaction was letting down a generation.

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Climate activists slam ‘shameful’ backing by Norwich City Council of Norwich Airport growth (and increased CO2) plans

Environmental campaigners have blasted the city council's endorsement of a plan for the future of Norwich Airport as "shameful" and "a fantasy".  An aspiration to treble annual air passenger numbers at Norwich Airport to more than 1.4m by 2045 was backed by Norwich city council's cabinet at a meeting on 17th October. [Norwich airport had 538,578 passengers in 2018]. The plans were met with scepticism from Green Party councillors and people aware of the climate emergency, who attended the debate. The committee voted against a full council debate on the issue, which led Extinction Rebellion Norwich (XR) members criticise councillors for a lack of action. One XR member commented: "They won't allow a democratic debate - it's shameful." Another said: "They're living in a fantasy."  The decision was called in, to the Scrutiny Committee, which which questioned why the environmental impact of the plan was deemed neutral, when it was obvious it would increase the carbon footprint of the airport. Regarding the expansion as providing economic benefit, but no environmental impact, was a "fundamental misunderstanding". The airport has been asked to provide evidence at the next masterplan review of what steps they will take to reduce the airport's carbon impact.

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Outside Court for legal appeals, John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, says fight against Heathrow 3rd runway on verge of victory

Speaking to the protest gathering outside the High Court, before the start of the legal appeals against Heathrow expansion, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell considered that the campaigns against the runway plans were on the verge of victory; the situation had moved on from when the legal challenges started, as the UK has now both declared a climate emergency and legislated for a net-zero emissions target.  He praised campaigners outside court for their persistent actions over many years, and said: “I think legislatively things have moved and politically, with the current campaigning by Extinction Rebellion, the pressure is on all politicians to recognise this is a project that cannot stand.”  Five legal challenges were brought against the Secretary of State for Transport, in March. Two were entirely on grounds of climate change (Friends of the Earth and Plan B Earth). The court dismissed the challenges on 1st May, and appeals have been allowed for four of them. Opening the appeal, Lord Justice Lindblom said the hearing would raise matters of obvious importance, which would be of interest to a national and international audience. Much hinges on whether the correct UK carbon targets, and commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement were properly taken into account when approving the 3rd runway.

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Willie Walsh says Heathrow runway unlikely to go ahead, due to rising environmental concerns

Willie Walsh, boss of BA's owner IAG believes the £14bn (or is it £32?) 3rd runway at Heathrow is unlikely to go ahead due to a growing backlash over the environment. He said the huge project is likely to fall flat despite finally winning approval from Parliament last year. He said: "I think it is a bigger challenge today than it was a year ago. And I can’t see it getting any easier.  Two years ago I would have said it was probably 60/40 that it would go ahead. I’m probably 60/40 against it going ahead at this stage. I wouldn’t rule it out completely."  Mr Walsh said that the huge costs involved, coupled with the carbon emissions from an extra 700 plans in the air every day after the new runway opens in 2026, will make it increasingly difficult to pull off. “They are really going to struggle to justify the environmental impact, when the economic argument to expand the airport gets undermined by the cost of the expansion.  I think the next six to 12 months are going to be critical."

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Government response to CCC advice on how the UK will achieve net-zero; woefully poor on cutting aviation CO2

The Government has produced "The Government Response to the Committee on Climate Change’s 2019 Progress Report to Parliament – Reducing UK emissions".  It is very weak on aviation, stating:  "The Aviation 2050 Green Paper was published in December 2018 and proposed accepting the CCC’s long-standing planning assumption that for an economy-wide target of an 80% emissions reduction, aviation emissions in 2050 should be no higher than those in 2005 (i.e. 37.5 MtCO2e). It also proposed a requirement that airports’ planning applications for capacity growth must demonstrate that their emissions do not impact on our ability to meet carbon reduction targets." No mention of the UK zero carbon target, ie. 100 % cuts, not the 80%.  It says: "Following the aviation advice we received from the CCC in September 2019, we intend to consult on how we are going to achieve a sustainable growth of the aviation sector and update our position on aviation and climate change." While the CCC recommended formal inclusion of international aviation and shipping emissions in the Climate Change Act net-zero target, all the DfT says is it is "minded to include these emissions in domestic legislation at a later date, subject to future progress in ICAO."

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Huge expansion plans by all UK airports mean carbon cap would be greatly exceeded

The UK aviation sector has massive expansion plans, that would take its carbon emissions way above even a lax future cap. UK airports are planning to expand almost three times faster than the government's climate change advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), say is sustainable. Sky News has done an analysis, which shows the "masterplans" for 21 of the country's biggest airports show they intend to add 192 million passengers to the 286 million that already use their terminals, over the next 10-20 years.  That's a growth of 67%. It far exceeds the ceiling of "at most 25%" that the Committee on Climate Change has told the Department of Transport is the limit for sustainable growth if the UK is to meet its commitment for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Heathrow plans for almost 50 million more passengers per year (it had about 80 million in 2018). Gatwick hopes to add 24 million passengers to the 46 million per year it now has. Southampton hopes to expand from 2 million to 5 million passengers by 2037 - an increase of 151%. Doncaster Sheffield airport, wants passenger numbers to grow from 1.2 to 7.2 million. Belfast City airport wants to almost double the number of passengers to four million over the coming years. And so on.

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