Sir Howard Davies speech gives provisional support for a new south east runway – but shows how borderline the decision would be

In a speech in central London Sir Howard Davies set out what he described as the Airports Commission’s “emerging thinking” after their first 11 months of work. He said it ” it would be helpful at this stage to set out some of our early thinking on the issue of overall capacity.” He said: “Our provisional view…. is that additional capacity will need to be provided, alongside an overall framework for managing emissions growth, if we are to deliver the best outcomes in both environmental and connectivity terms.” Also that: “…our provisional conclusion from this analysis …is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the south east of England in the coming decades.” He first went through 4 sets of arguments against a new runway (less future demand for air travel than anticipated; future demand can be met by existing capacity; carbon emissions from growing aviation could breach UK climate commitments; regional airports could take the extra demand). He then gave explanations for each why he believed the optimal solution would be more runway capacity. He said, on the guidance from the CCC on aviation CO2 emissions needing to be restricted that: “We are in the process of updating the Committee on Climate Change’s analysis and will present our findings in our Interim Report”. Comments on the speech are welcomed by the Commission until 31st October.


Sir Howard Davies


Aviation capacity in the UK: emerging thinking

7.10.2013 (Airports Commission press release)

In a speech today (7 October 2013) at the Centre for London, Sir Howard Davies, Chair of the Airports Commission, set out the commission’s developing views on the UK’s future airport capacity needs.

The Airports Commission’s emerging thinking, on which it is inviting comments, includes:

– pressure on the UK’s busiest airports is likely to continue to grow even if we take a more conservative view of future aviation demand than the DfT has in the past. This is likely to see levels of future demand in excess of capacity in the south east of England airport system.

– importantly, this appears to be the case even if future aviation demand is constrained in order to meet the government’s legislated climate change objectives.

– it is difficult to see how the market alone could resolve the capacity / demand imbalance in the south east. Regional airports are already serving their local markets effectively but it is difficult to see how they can absorb all the excess demand. The tools available to government to influence the location of flights are also very limited.
Taken together, these considerations point to the need for new runway infrastructure in the south east of England in the coming decades.

In his speech Sir Howard said:

“Our provisional conclusion is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the south east of England in the coming decades. To rely only on runways currently in operation would be likely to produce a distinctly sub-optimal solution for passengers, connectivity and the economy and would also almost certainly not be the best solution in terms of minimising the overall carbon impact of flights and travel to and from airports.

“A mechanism for managing the carbon impacts of aviation will be needed if the UK is to achieve its statutory carbon targets – just as it will in other countries. This is the case whether new runway capacity is provided in the south east or not.

“I would be interested in comments on the analysis I have set out today.”

The Airports Commission was launched on 2 November 2012. Its terms of reference require that it should report no later than the end of 2013 on:

–  its assessment of the evidence on the nature, scale and timing of the steps needed to maintain the UK’s global hub status

– its recommendation(s) for immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next 5 years – consistent with credible long term options
Its terms of reference also require that it should report no later than summer 2015 on:

– its assessment of the options for meeting the UK’s international connectivity needs, including their economic, social and environmental impact

– its recommendation(s) for the optimum approach to meeting any needs

– its recommendation(s) for ensuring that the need is met as expeditiously as practicable within the required timescale

The commission has indicated that it would welcome responses commenting on the emerging thinking and analysis set out in the speech.

Responses should be sent to by 31 October 2013.

The speech is at

Link to Commission press release



There is a great deal of media coverage of  Sir Howard Davies’ speech.
Links to some of the coverage is below: 



Evening Standard 

Daily Mail 






Mentions of climate and carbon emissions in Sir Howard’s speech:

“Others have made similar points [that no new runway capacity is needed] in response to our papers on forecasting and on climate change. They say we should rule out any expansion of capacity for the foreseeable future.”

“But we need to ask whether growth in aviation is consistent with other obligations, for example to play our part in tackling climate change, and – if so – whether any significant expansion in airport or runway capacity is needed to accommodate future demand”

“In particular, it is argued that the UK’s legislated climate change commitments – to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 – impose a severe limitation on the amount of air travel we can allow. While only 6% of UK carbon emissions today are associated with air travel, that proportion could rise sharply as other sectors reduce their emissions. If we allowed unlimited growth in air traffic, that would impose high costs on the rest of the economy if the overall target is to be met, for example, pushing up domestic heating bills as the energy sector has to decarbonise more quickly. And in some sectors, additional emissions reductions over and above what is already proposed may prove technically infeasible. So, in the absence of a comprehensive emissions trading scheme, the best way to control air travel may, on this argument, be to constrain the growth of airport capacity.”

“The third point, on climate change, is complex. We had hoped, as had many EU governments, that it would be possible to situate aviation in a new and comprehensive European Emissions Trading Scheme. But that scheme has been suspended in the face of opposition from non-EU governments and airlines. Work is under way to prepare a global agreement on containing aircraft emissions, and there are some encouraging signs from the latest round of negotiations at ICAO, but success on that front is still not guaranteed. That uncertainty has brought airport capacity into sharper focus. Some argue that, in the absence of any other agreed constraint, it is appropriate to hold down aviation growth by not building new airports and runways. That may be a second best solution, but it is one which is available.

The best outcome would clearly be a global deal on aviation. But the achievement of such a deal may be some time off and in any case we should not ignore the UK’s own obligations, which are enshrined in the Climate Change Act of 2008.

Here we take our cue from the Committee on Climate Change. In its report on aviation in December 2009 the committee agreed that further growth in aviation could be reconciled with the government’s climate change objectives, as long as planned emissions reductions were delivered elsewhere in the economy, and the industry played its part with increased fuel efficiency and better operating efficiency. Specifically, it suggested that UK-sourced demand could grow by roughly 60% to 2050, relative to a 2005 baseline.

Growth beyond that, unless current assumptions about fuel efficiency and the use of alternative fuels prove to have been overly pessimistic, would put great pressure on the rest of the economy to achieve further carbon reductions, which could be very costly. At present, aviation accounts for only 6 per cent of UK carbon emissions, but on the CCC’s projections by 2050 it would account for 25 per cent.

We are very alive to the climate change problem. We do not believe it would be responsible for any government to accept a massive expansion of aviation with no reasonable expectation of being able to deliver commensurate carbon emission reductions. We are in the process of updating the Committee on Climate Change’s analysis and will present our findings in our Interim Report. However, it seems unlikely that things have changed so much in the last four years that the fundamental message will be different.

The question is whether the growth that the CCC has said is compatible with the UK’s climate objectives implies an expansion in runway capacity. Some argue that it does not – that there is sufficient runway capacity in the UK to accommodate that level of growth and more besides.

The challenge, however, is to deliver the best solution for the UK overall, which has to be one that both achieves our carbon targets and delivers the connections that our economy and society demand. These are not irreconcilable goals. But they mean that, alongside looking at carbon emissions, we need also to consider what our future aviation needs are likely to be and where passengers are going to want to fly to and from over the coming decades, in order to identify what configuration of airport capacity is most likely to facilitate those journeys. In short, how do we deliver the maximum connectivity bang for each of our carbon bucks?”



See earlier:

Committee on Climate Change reminds Airports Commission of carbon restriction on aviation growth


Lord Deben (John Gummer), who is the Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, has written to Sir Howard Davies and the Airports Commission on the issue of UK aviation and climate change. He reminds the Commission that UK aviation emissions are included in the UK’s target to reduce economy wide CO2 emissions by 80% in 2050 on 1990 levels. This implies a trade off between emissions from aviation and from other sectors: the higher the level of aviation emissions, the deeper the emissions cuts required in other  sectors to meet the economy-wide target. The CCC has illustrated how the 80% target could be achieved through reducing aviation emissions to 2005 levels in 2050 and reducing emissions in other sectors by 85% on 1990 levels. That would mean limiting demand growth to around 60% in 2050 compared to 2005. Unless the rest of the UK economy can cut emissions by over 85% (unlikely) then aviation demand cannot grow by more than 60%. Lord Deben recommends that this should be reflected in the Commission’s economic analysis of alternative investments in airport infrastructure. Each should be assessed in terms of whether it would make sense if demand growth were to be limited to 60% by 2050.


The Committee on Climate Change’s 

“Meeting the UK aviation target – options for reducing emissions to 2050”

Executive Summary, December 2009  and Full Report (9MB.pdf)  

In this they said:

Given prudent assumptions on likely improvements in fleet fuel efficiency and biofuels penetration, demand growth of around 60% would be compatible with keeping CO2
emissions in 2050 no higher than in 2005


Future technological progress may make more rapid demand growth than 60% compatible with the target, but it is not prudent to plan on the assumption that such progress will be achieved:


A 60% increase in total UK demand could be consistent with a range of policies as regards capacity expansion at specific airports


In our Likely scenario we assume annual improvements in fleet fuel efficiency of 0.8% together with 10% biofuels penetration in 2050. This combination of improvement in fleet fuel efficiency and biofuels penetration implies a carbon intensity reduction of around 35% in 2050 relative to the reference projection (Figure ES.6). As a result an increase in ATMs of around 55% relative to 2005 levels would be compatible with the target of ensuring that 2050 CO2 emissions did not exceed the 2005 level of 37.5 MtCO2.  Given increasing load
factors over time, an increase in passengers of around 60% on 2005 levels by 2050 would be possible, taking total annual passenger numbers from 230 million to around 370 million. This would be equivalent to taking total passenger trips (one departure plus one arrival) from 115 million in 2005 to around 185 million in 2050.


The key implication from our analysis is that future airport policy should be designed to be in line with the assumption that total ATMs should not increase by more than about 55% between 2005 and 2050, i.e. from today’s level of 2.2 million to no more than around 3.4 million in 2050

CCC airport capacity and utilisation 2009

AirportWatch comment:
This illustrates that if the spare capacity at all these airports was used, it would take up the entire future growth potential of 55% more ATMs, without any new runway.
The current number of ATMs is approximately 2,160,000 per year (from the CCC table).
The CCC says this could rise by 55% which means an extra 1,188,000 ATMs per year.
That means a total of 3,348,000 ATMs per year permitted by 2050 – to perhaps keep within UK climate targets.
If each of the airports listed was at full capacity, that would be a total of 5,577,000 ATMs, which is far above the 3,348,000 ATM limit.
If another runway was allowed, with some additional 230,000 ATMs per year above the current level (a bit less than either Gatwick or Heathrow’s runways at present) that would mean the current level plus 230,000 which is 2,390,000 ATMs.
With the 3,348,000 ATMs limit, the 2,390,000 ATMs would only leave around 958,000 ATMs for growth at all the other airports. That figure compares to the 3,417,000 figure given by the Committee on Climate Change for all the spare capacity at the UK’s airports.
It is much less than a third of it.
So keeping within the CCC recommendation, that might translate into 7 other airports that are not now full (Manchester with a whole spare runway that could take 230,000 more ATMs; Birmingham, Luton, Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Bristol which could take at least another 40,000 more ATMs on their single runways – out to 2050.  Leaving only some 500,000 for all the other airports, like Leeds Bradford, Newcastle, Belfast, Cardiff, Bournemouth, Blackpool etc.
Would they accept this?
Surely regional airports are not likely to be willing to sacrifice growth, so that a new runway can be used to full capacity in the south east.
Of course, the number of ATMs or passengers is only a proxy for the carbon emissions. A new runway in the London area, or in the south east, would be likely to be providing flights to a higher proportion of long haul destinations than most regional airports. The European holiday  flights are what most regional airports largely deal with.
So the new long haul airport would take up a higher proportion of the total aviation carbon that could be emitted, leaving even less for expansion at other airports around the UK.
If, that is, the UK sticks to its target of not allowing the international aviation sector to be the only one (with international shipping) that gets preferential and lenient treatment, in terms of its carbon emissions.