“Independent” transport think tank, pro-runway, finds the environmental challenges can all (honestly…) be overcome …

Heathrow is well aware that it has an almost insurmountable set of environmental obstacles that, in any logical system, would make a 3rd runway out of the question. However, it keeps hoping that it can persuade enough key people that all is well, and all environmental problems will just melt away. Now, in a slightly desperate attempt to get politicians etc to ignore the evidence, a report has been done by an organisation called the “Independent Transport Commission.” This is a body partly funded by Heathrow, by Gatwick, by NATS and many others. The report “The sustainability of UK Aviation: Trends in the mitigation of noise and emissions“, written by RDC Aviation Ltd, sets out to show that the aviation industry can soon overcome problems of noise, air pollution and carbon emissions – and adding a new runway will be problem-free. The report is thin on good detail to back up these claims. It is high on hopes, aspirations and what could be termed “mindless optimism” that new technologies will work out well, and everything that could help the aviation industry will do so. None of the real problems of an expanding industry, with additional problems from the sheer increase in plane numbers are dealt with. A report, which is hard to describe as “independent” in any meaningful sense of the word, advocates sacrificing the environment if holds the industry’s growth back. 

The ITC (Independent Transport Commission) press release is at http://www.theitc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/ITC-Aviation-Sustainability-PN-070316.pdf

The ITC press release 

“UK aviation sustainability challenges can be overcome, finds transport think tank”

Part copied here:

The findings indicate that technological improvements will mitigate any future increases in noise, CO2 and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions arising from airport expansion. Improvements in these areas have been rapid over the past 30 years and the evidence suggests that progress is likely to continue.

Aircraft noise – significant progress has been made in reducing noise, with evidence that advances will continue from a combination of technological and aircraft design improvements as well as alterations to airport operations (e.g. the use of continuous descent approaches and displaced runway thresholds).

Carbon emissions – are likely to be mitigated by progress in aircraft efficiency (e.g. new technology will drive a 1.6% per year improvement in fuel efficiency) and operations. The research reveals that this is a global issue and cannot be addressed by the UK unilaterally restricting its own connectivity. They also identify that due to the use of larger aircraft, hub operations emit up to 24% fewer carbon emissions than if that same connectivity were provided through point-to-point services; however, the research notes that there is a trade-off because hub operations increase the noise burden on local residents.

NOx and particulate emissions – the contribution of these pollutants to poor air quality is caused principally by surface transport. The issue transcends the aviation industry and requires separate measures from Government that have been shown to alter land-based travel patterns (e.g. modal shift from car to rail) and reduce the NOx and particulate emissions surrounding an airport.

“Having reviewed these important sustainability issues in-depth, [!!] it is clear that the environmental challenges of limiting the carbon emissions, noise and local air quality impacts are not insurmountable”, commented Dr Stephen Hickey, Chair of the ITC’s aviation working group and ITC Commissioner. [ Dr Stephen Hickey is a former Director General at the Department for Transport. AW comment]

He added: “Whether the Government pursues the proposal to expand Gatwick or Heathrow, the ITC research demonstrates that sustainability concerns should not stop the UK realising the great additional benefits that increased connectivity can provide.  [This is, frankly, shocking. The report’s claims are little more than aspirations of future problems being solved, and this as much as says – don’t bother with the environmental problems – just get on with it …. and hope.  AW comment]

“The findings suggest that noise and local air quality impacts can be managed downwards given the right mix of operational, policy and technological development, while incremental improvements in carbon Independent Transport Commission Registered Charity: 1080134 2 emission output are being delivered on an annual basis. Building public confidence and trust is essential. By arming an independent regulator with powers to monitor and control sensitive issues such as noise, the Government could play its part in delivering improvements for those affected by airport operations once a decision is made.”


The report is at



Heathrow third runway: Environmental concerns ‘should not stop expansion’

7.3.2016 (BBC)

Concerns over the environmental impact of expanding Gatwick or Heathrow should not lead to aviation plans being rejected, according to a think tank.

The Independent Transport Commission (ITC) report said research showed there had been “rapid” progress on aircraft noise and emissions over the past 30 years. [The industry always says this, when intending to mislead. Progress was indeed rapid many years ago. The “low hanging fruit” has been picked, and improvements are now much slower. AW note].

In July, the Airports Commission (AC) said the expansion of Heathrow was preferable to expanding Gatwick.

Anti-expansion campaigners said the ITC “was not living in the real world”.

The ITC researches the economic, social and environmental aspects of travel and recommends possible solutions to transport problems.

Its report said the reduction of CO2 emissions was “not an impossible problem to solve” and restricting aviation expansion in the UK would just push the carbon output to other countries.
It also said the rollout of Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 aircraft could deliver noise improvements too.

‘Carbon emission improvements’

“Whether the government pursues the proposal to expand Gatwick or Heathrow, the ITC research demonstrates that sustainability concerns should not stop the UK realising the great additional benefits that increased connectivity can provide,” said the ITC’s Dr Stephen Hickey.

“The findings suggest that noise and local air quality impacts can be managed downwards given the right mix of operational, policy and technological development, while incremental improvements in carbon emission output are being delivered on an annual basis.”  [This is misinformation. The aviation industry manages around 1.5% annual improvements on aircraft fuel efficiency. But the industry plans to grow at least 4% per year. That means whatever small gains are achieved per plane are wiped out by the growth in numbers of planes. Not making this clear is concealing an important problem. AW note].

‘250,000 extra flights’

John Stewart, chairman of ant-Heathrow group Hacan, dismissed the report, saying it repeated “the myth that the noise climate” around major airports had improved.

“The report is right to say that individual aircraft have become less noisy but for most residents this is offset by the sheer rise in the number of planes,” he added. “This report really does skate too easily over the impact of another 250,000 flights a year at Heathrow if a third runway is built.”

Heathrow welcomed the report’s “unequivocal” conclusions, saying it confirmed that road vehicles were the principal contributors of air pollution around the airport.  [Not surprising, as Heathrow is one of the funders of the “Independent Transport Commission” and it was carried out by an organisation that is very strongly in favour of airport expansion. AW comment].

The airport’s Director of Sustainability, Matt Gorman, said: “This report adds to the evidence presented by the Airports Commission that road traffic is the main contributor to poor air quality and it is a national problem which needs government action.

“Heathrow has worked to maintain airport-related traffic broadly static since the 1990’s and is taking action to reduce emissions further by switching to electric vehicles and increasing public transport options for passengers and colleagues.” [And that really is not going to solve the problem of unacceptable, illegal levels of NOx around the airport, with another 50% more passengers – and plans to double the volume of air freight, carried in diesel lorries. A few electric vehicles are not going to make more than a tiny impact.  AW comment].

The AC has recommended building a new runway at Heathrow rather than providing a second runway at Gatwick.

But it did not completely rule out another runway at Gatwick or doubling an existing runway at Heathrow.

The government has said more work needs to be done on the environmental impact and his delayed its decision to the summer at the earliest.



John Stewart commented, on the hopes that Heathrow has for this rather weak little report, that:

“I suspect that it is also indicative of the fact that over the next few months – with Europe and the Mayoral elections dominating and Heathrow not news again until nearer the time a decision will be made – the industry will struggle to get significant coverage for many months.”



The “Independent Transport Commission” http://www.theitc.org.uk/

It says of itself:

“The Independent Transport Commission (ITC) is Britain’s foremost independent land use and transport think tank. We are research charity committed to providing insight and analysis of the most pressing long-term strategic issues in the fields of transport and land use. We explore the long-term consequences of current policy, we consider new approaches and we make recommendations on the way forward.

“The ITC was launched in 1999 in response to HM Government’s transport white paper, and quickly established itself as a leading research voice in the fields of land use and transport. The current Director is Dr Matthew Niblett and the Chairman is Simon Linnett, Executive Vice-Chairman of Rothschild.”

The ITC’s 4 Patrons are:   http://www.theitc.org.uk/about-us/patrons/

The Rt Hon Lord Andrew Adonis PC

The Rt Hon The Lord Freeman PC

Sir Patrick Brown, KCB

Sir Terry Farrell, CBE, RIBA, FRSA, FCSD


The ITC says its Mission is: 

The Independent Transport Commission is committed to providing insight and analysis of long-term strategic issues facing the fields of transport and land use. Our mission is to explore the long-term consequences of current policy, consider new approaches and make recommendations on the way forward.

We pride ourselves on our independence and the strength this gives to our research. Our distinguished Patrons and Commissioners are drawn from the widest range of expertise in the United Kingdom.


ITC past reports

The ITC has produced a number of reports on aviation in the past.  http://www.theitc.org.uk/our-research/research-reports-2/

These include:

Time to Act: The economic consequences of failing to expand airport capacity

Dr Rebecca Driver (June 2015) 

http://www.theitc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/ITC-Economics-airport-inaction-Dr-R-Driver-June-2015.pdf  (The conclusions of this report are totally in favour of getting on and building a runway soon, with an uncritical belief that it is vital for the UK economy).


Delivering improved airport capacity: The cost and impact of the Airports Commission’s shortlisted options

Peter Hind (February 2015)



Surface Connectivity: assessing the merits of the Airports Commission’s options for UK aviation

Dr T Ryley and Dr A Zanni (October 2014)



Aviation: the optimal size of a UK Hub airport

Peter Hind (February 2014)

http://www.theitc.org.uk/docs/113.pdf (Which advocates planning for the really long term and having two new runways…)



The ITC says its main funders are:   http://www.theitc.org.uk/funding/

Addison Lee,



Arup Group Limited,

Associated British Ports,

Birmingham Airport,

British Land,

Cubic Transportation Systems,


Gatwick Airport,

Go Ahead Group,

Heathrow Airport,

High Speed 2 Ltd


Network Rail,

Peter Brett Associates,




and Transport for London,


Campaigners dismiss ITC aviation report as ‘ivory tower research’

7.3.2016 (HACAN – Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise – statement)

Campaigners have dismissed a new report published today which claims the environmental problems of airport expansion can be overcome as ‘ivory tower research’. The report by the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) argues that “concerns around noise, carbon emissions (CO2) and local air quality that arise from aviation operations do not need to be a show-stopper for the UK’s pursuit of airport capacity enhancements at either Gatwick or Heathrow”.

HACAN, which opposes a third runway at Heathrow, said the researchers ‘were not living in the real world’.

HACAN Chair John Stewart said, “The report repeats the myth that the noise climate around major airports has improved. But this is not living in the real world. You can only argue the climate is better if you ignore the significant rise in the number of planes passing over people’s homes. The report is right to say that individual aircraft have become less noisy but for most residents this is off-set by the sheer rise in the number of planes. I fear this is ivory tower research.”

The report argues that technological and operational improvements will deal satisfactorily with the noise, air pollution and climate problems caused by a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick.

Stewart said, “We welcome any advances in technology and any operational improvements but this report really does skate too easily over the impact of another 250,000 flights a year at Heathrow if a third runway is built.”

HACAN did welcome report’s endorsement of the setting up of an Independent Noise Authority and its recommendation that, if a new runway is built at Heathrow or Gatwick, the Government should ‘mandate the use of certain routing pathways to ensure airline flight plans are optimised for the needs of communities rather than to simply reduce fuel burn’.



Earlier, by contrast to the mindless optimism of the ITC paper: 

New academic paper shows how “Technology myths” are unduly influencing aviation climate policy

A new research study by a group of academics from a range of countries has looked at claims made by the aviation industry that it will achieve substantial carbon savings in future. They conclude that many of these claims could be described as “myths” as they have often just been used to give favourable publicity to the industry, before rapidly being proven to be over-hyped. Some of these technologies are alternative fuels, such as animal fats or jatropha; also solar power planes; or new forms of aircraft. None of these hoped-for technologies have any likelihood of making more than small contributions to future fuel efficiency. At best, they will be small improvements per plane – set against far larger growth of the industry – resulting in a large overall increase in carbon emissions. The authors make the point that the hype and the positive media coverage that the “myth” technologies permit are damaging. The unrealistic hopes for low carbon flying in future convinces politicians (who maybe happy to be so persuaded) to give the industry the benefit of the doubt, and permit its continuing growth – ever hoping for a marvellous new technology, just around the corner, which will lead to “sustainable” flying. The unjustifiably optimistic PR of the industry has implications for decisions such as that of a new runway in the south east.

Click here to view full story…

RDC Aviation


They are an adamantly pro-aviation, pro-aviation expansion company, very eager to see a new runway at Heathrow.

Its customers are (almost) all airlines and airports http://www.rdcaviation.com/Customers/

Aviation Economics is the consultancy branch of RDC –http://www.aviationeconomics.com/Team.aspx


In the table below is a timeline going back to 1963 on successive UK Government’s procrastination on the runway issue.

From RDC Aviation

Heathrow decisions table