Airport Operators Association hopes small cuts in CO2 emissions by airport buildings etc will permit a new runway

The AOA have produced a report, the purpose of which is to persuade government etc that aviation is a responsible industry and a new runway should be allowed for the south east. They make various claims, which need to be analysed with some care. Realising that aircraft noise, and the industry’s CO2 emissions are key to any decision to allow a new runway, they say airports are reducing the CO2 emissions of their own operations. Airports tend to be huge structures, inherently poorly designed for optimum energy use. However, AOA says that the largest 18 airports have cut their CO2  by “almost 3% in two years” 2010 – 2012  while their number of passengers rose by about 5.4%. Taking into account the 8 airports for which there is data of aircraft emissions below 2,000 feet, the AOA say the CO2 emissions were down 1.9% with a 2.4% rise in flights. This all sounds great, but completely ignores the issue of the carbon emitted by the flights themselves – which is a far larger amount. Aviation carbon emissions – and controls on them – are based on emissions from aircraft, not emissions from airports. So the AOA’s efforts, though welcome, are somewhat peripheral to the main issue. Airport carbon savings should not be a justification for building a new runway, enabling a large number of extra annual aircraft kilometres.

 The Airport Operators Association says:


10.9.2014 (AOA press release)

UK airports are growing whilst reducing carbon and managing noise, according to a report launched in Parliament today by the Airport Operators Association (AOA). The report Sustainable Airports: Improving the environmental impact of the UK’s global gateways (see,responds to political and public calls to demonstrate that a growing airport sector can be delivered sustainably.

On carbon emissions, the report shows that the carbon footprint of the UK’s 18 largest airports (by passenger numbers) – which represent 95% of air passengers – reduced by almost 3% in just two years, despite passenger numbers increasing by more than 5% and air traffic by almost 2% during the same period.  [Note:  The AOA are talking about the carbon emissions of airports themselves, and not of the flights using those airports]. 

On noise near airports, the report concludes that – despite historically reducing noise contours around airports, and airports managing noise perception by significantly investing in enhanced local community engagement – the population size within noise contours is beyond the control of airports due to a lack of consistency between national aviation policy and planning policy. In the last three years, over 5,700 homes have been given planning permission or have started or completed construction in areas around airports where the Government expects some people will experience annoyance at aircraft noise. [Note: For more on this, see ]


In the report, the AOA calls on Government for policy support in two main ways:

  • On carbon, Government needs to work with the aviation sector to incentivise the take-up of sustainable aviation fuels, including establishing a clear policy framework to stimulate production and investment in this new technology.  [Note: What they want is government subsidy for biofuels etc for the aviation industry]. Politicians from all parties should also support a global Emissions Trading Scheme; and
  • On noise, the Government needs to give local authorities national policy guidance, to help them build homes in areas that are compatible with airports and other infrastructure, but which do not cut across national aviation policy. Government policy asks airports to limit and reduce the number of people inside noise contours – it should not enable developers to introduce thousands of new households into those contours.


Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, said:

  • “This report is an important contribution to the debate around whether our sector can successfully expand without increasing its carbon and noise impacts. It demonstrates that our country’s airports, which are so crucial to the economic well-being of the UK, can grow sustainably, even more so if given proper policy support.
  •  “The report shows that airports are keeping to their side of the bargain, investing and innovating to reduce their carbon footprints, and working through industry coalitions to reduce noise. [Note: This is questionable; while airports may be able to make some carbon savings by greater efficiency, new planes will be slightly more fuel efficient per passenger, and flight routing etc can be made slightly more fuel efficient, these gains would be more than outweighed by the rate of growth the industry wants to achieve in coming years. See link and  link ].
  • “We now need to see a partnership approach with Government to take sustainable airport development to the next level. We urge Ministers to step up to the plate and do their bit to deliver supportive policy on issues such as supporting sustainable aviation fuels, promoting a global carbon emissions trading scheme, and providing consistent national and local planning policy which helps airports limit and reduce the number of families living inside noise contours, thereby reducing the number of people experiencing noise annoyance from aviation.”

For further information please contact Tim Alderslade on 0207 799 3171 or


Notes to Editors:

  1. Carbon


There has been an almost 3% reduction in carbon emissions produced by airports, whilst passenger numbers increased by more than 5% and air traffic by almost 2% in the same time. The AOA report, Sustainable Airports: Improving the environmental impact of the UK’s global gateways  finds that of the 18 airports analysed, 13 reduced their carbon emissions, three increased their carbon emissions and two remained unchanged. From an analysis of the airports, which between them account for over 95% of passengers using UK airports, the key findings are:

18 biggest airports   in the UK20102012Change%
Total annual CO2 (tonnes)4,015,1603,898,488-116,672-2.91%
Terminal passengers201,667,719212,560,735+10,893,016+5.40%
Air traffic movements1,794,0001,826,000+32,000+1.78%

Some airports were able to share 2013 carbon emissions data. The AOA only included those that used the same calculation methods for their 2010 emissions, so that the two data points are comparable. Fourteen of the 18 airports shared comparable data for 2013. The findings show that between 2010 and 2013, airports reduced carbon emissions by 4.35%. At the same time passenger numbers at these airports increased by almost 7 million, and there was a 2% increase in air traffic movements:

14 airports for   which 2013 figures are available20102013Change%
Total annual CO2 (tonnes)406,889389,209-17,680-4.35%
Terminal passengers77,422,14984,321,138+6,898,989+8.91%
Air traffic movements867,000885,000+18,000+2.08%

Source of carbon emissions at airports:

Airports do not own or operate aircraft, meaning that they are not in direct control of the biggest contributor to aviation’s carbon emissions: the fuel used for flights. Airport carbon emissions focus on the energy used to run their buildings and business operations for passengers. However, eight of the 18 airports assessed by the AOA do include measurements of the carbon emissions from flights in the landing and take-off cycle at the airport. So for these eight airports the analysis includes aircraft movements and the carbon emissions they generate. This separate analysis shows a more specific reflection of the aviation sector’s carbon emissions, which reduced by 2% over the same period, whilst at the same time air traffic at these airports increased by 2%. In other words, even these airports decreased their carbon emissions whilst increasing the number of flights. Key data:

The 8 airports that include carbon   emissions of flights in the landing and take-off cycle   at the airport20102012Change%
Total annual CO2   (tonnes)3,850,1163,777,339-72,717-1.89%
Air traffic   movements1,163,0001,191,000+28,000+2.41%

How carbon emission reductions are being made: Airports are reducing their carbon footprint in a number of ways, including:

  • Improving surface access: Improved public transport links and more efficient use of road and rail networks, helping to reduce airport related congestion and emissions.
  • Energy efficient buildings and business practice: Airports are setting up carbon saving initiatives inside their buildings and through their infrastructure. These include energy saving initiatives and improved insulation.
  • Providing cleaner on-site energy to aircraft: Aircraft are supplied with power whilst they are grounded at an airport. Airports are substituting the source and type of power they supply, to provide cleaner energy with lower carbon emissions.
  1. Noise

5,700+ new houses have been either built or commenced near to airports over the last three years. The report finds  that developers are being allowed to build new homes and other noise-sensitive buildings closer to airports. This means that factors outside of airports’ control are preventing them from meeting the policy objective set in the Government’s 2013 Aviation Policy Framework “to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.”

The key findings of the report are:

  • In the last three years 5,761 homes have been given planning permission or have started or completed construction in the noise contours of the UK’s 18 biggest airports (the research covers the period starting 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2014) – these are the areas where the Government expects some people will experience annoyance from aircraft noise.
  • There is no evidence that these homes have adequate noise insulation, or that people moving in to them will be told by the developer or estate agent that they are in an airport’s noise contour.

In 2010 it was found that airports and their partners in the aviation sector had successfully reduced the area in which there are higher levels of aircraft noise by 45% since 1998 (the area of the the 57dB LAeq 16 hour contours of 6 major airports shrunk from 409.6 km2 in 1998 to 225.6 km2, with the 57dB LAeq 16 hour contour being the area defined by the Government as the average level of daytime aircraft noise marking the approximate onset of significant community annoyance). Today the AOA’s report finds that airports are working closely with the populations remaining within the noise contours through regular community engagement, but they cannot limit or reduce the population within noise contours when national planning policy enables new development in those areas.

  1. Going forward


The AOA’s recommendations:


a)    Delivering sustainable growth

  • Airports are already meeting policy objectives to ensure their sustainability; therefore, in light of airports’ proven commitment, all political parties should support the growth of airports as essential national economic and transport infrastructure. This includes committing to acting on both the 2013 Aviation Policy Framework (APF) and the findings of the Airports Commission, when it reports in 2015.

b)   Reducing carbon emissions

  • Airports are reducing their carbon emissions, but these  emissions are only a small proportion of those created by the UK’s aviation sector. To help the aviation sector achieve greater carbon reductions, the Department for Transport (DfT) should help make two important initiatives a reality: the development of sustainable aviation fuels and a global Emissions Trading Scheme. The DfT should:
  • Provide an incentive framework to stimulate investment, research and development, and commercialisation for sustainable aviation fuels. The fuels should be eligible for incentives in the same way that credits are awarded to qualifying road transport fuels under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation
  • Press for agreement on and support implementation of a global carbon-trading solution encompassing all of aviation and ensuring a level playing field for all participants
    • Airports that have not already done so should commit to a scheme to reduce as well as monitor their carbon emissions. One option available to them would be the ‘ACI Carbon Accreditation Stage 2: Reduction’.

c)    Reducing noise

  • The location of noise sensitive developments like housing needs to work alongside airports and other existing infrastructure. The Department for Communities and Local Government should help airports to further manage noise by reversing the policy change to national planning guidance, so that in future Local Plans include the noise metrics in the APF. By reversing this policy change, developers and local authorities would rightly have to meet the same policy expectations as the aviation sector by managing the specific location and noise insulation of new homes.
  • If a new home or other noise sensitive building is to be built within the Government’s defined noise contour (the 57dB LAeq 16 hour contour), then the housing developer should provide adequate sound insulation and make people aware of aircraft noise before they buy or rent a property.
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