LETTER: Cutting air travel is essential choice – not only advocating more cycling & more use of rail

Writing in the local Sussex press, a local resident shows up the logical inconsistency of local LibDem councillor Frances Haigh backing a 2nd Gatwick runway (against the policy of her party) while backing more cycling and more use of rail.   With around 35 million passengers per year, Gatwick already provides far more capacity than everyone living within a reasonable distance of the airport could possibly need per year. The extra passengers with a new runway would need to come by road or rail from long distances away, possibly passing other airports which have spare capacity, like Stansted and Luton. To travel more by bike and by rail is commendable, but  the carbon emissions from flying far outweigh the savings than can be made by these more sustainable modes. The travel distances flying permits, in just a few hours, can result in the production of more CO2 per person per day than the average per car in a year. For anyone concerned about their contribution to global warming, cutting back on air travel is an obvious and essential choice.


LETTER: Cutting air travel is essential choice

29 November 2014  (West Sussex County Times – WSCT)

Cllr Haigh’s (LibDem councillor, leader of the LibDem group on Horsham DistrictCouncil) comments (WSCT 20.11.2014) about improving cycle and rail infrastructure are spot on but her analysis of the benefits of air transport is over simplistic and misleading.

Cllr Haigh recently voiced her support for a second runway at Gatwick – involving 40,000 more supporting jobs than we have local people to fill; 120,000 more people than we have places for them to live; more than twice as many aircraft flights than we need; more than twice as much noise and air pollution than we want; and so on.

According to www.gatwickairport.com, ‘Gatwick serves around 200 destinations [more than Heathrow and any other UK airport] in 90 countries for 34 million passengers a year on short and long haul point-to-point services’.

That is more than enough for everyone, for miles around Gatwick, to fly many times each year. If the number of flights is more than doubled then the obvious conclusion is that the extra flights would be filled by people travelling by road and rail from even further away – generating more noise, air pollution and traffic congestion on their way to Gatwick.

The irony would be that, to reach Gatwick, many of those passengers would travel away from, sometimes past, nearer regional airports – like Stansted and Luton (which are running considerably below capacity).

Expanding Gatwick (which is itself running below capacity) is unnecessary and would be detrimental to the national economy, make worse the North-South (and East-West) divide; would be detrimental to the global environment and very detrimental to our local environment.

Cllr Haigh justifies her presumption that we should fly more often and drive less often by quoting some statistics – ‘greenhouse gas emissions for Europe… transport is 25%… of this 17.9% is due to road transport and 3.1% to aviation… Carbon emissions [of] a large petrol driven car with one occupant is worse… per kilometre than a short haul flight’. However, those statistics are only a part of a complex picture.

For example, the total global warming impact of each flight is thought to be more than twice the carbon emissions (research ‘aviation multiplier’). Also, the standard way to account for emissions for an international flight is to allocate half to the country of departure and half to the country of arrival.  ** [No – see below].

However, European residents take up two-thirds of the seats on the average plane landing at or taking off from a European airport. The official statistics are effectively offloading the emissions of Europeans onto the countries travellers are visiting.

Aircraft will continue to rely on inefficient and polluting combustion engines for the foreseeable future. On the other hand road and rail vehicles are already achieving considerable improvements through the use of hybrid, electric and, soon, hydrogen propulsion.

The distances flying permits can result in the production of more CO2 per person per day than the average by car in a year.

Between 1990 and 2004, despite improvements in aircraft fuel efficiencies and a reduction in business travel, the total UK CO2 emissions from aircraft doubled. Unless this growth is stopped, flying will soon add more emissions than all the cuts we make elsewhere.

The majority of people who are causing this harmful and environmentally damaging pollution are financially well off. The people who are most vulnerable are the poorest inhabitants of the poorest nations, the great majority of whom will never afford to fly.

Cllr Haigh asked: ‘What would we change to protect our planet?’

For anyone concerned about their contribution to global warming, cutting back on air travel is an obvious and essential choice.

Gatwick is big enough.


Tennyson Close, Horsham




**  [No – in the UK the DfT calculates UK aviation carbon emissions from departing planes. See link.  There is the assumption that as many planes go one way, as then come back the other, so balancing it out.   ICAO is currently trying to work out how best to allocate carbon in future – perhaps by departures, perhaps shared … see link ].