Airport growth plans are for way more passengers than carbon targets could permit

Despite the dire financial state of airports and airlines due to Covid, airports are pressing ahead with huge expansion plans – in the hope these could be approved before the government produces proper policies on UK carbon emissions. Leeds City Council (11th Feb) approved plans for a new airport terminal, to increase the number of passengers. Heathrow, Stansted, Luton, Gatwick, Bristol and Southampton airports all want to expand – increasing the number of passengers. But the advice to the UK government by its official advisers, the CCC (the Committee on Climate Change), is that there should be no more than 365 million passengers per year (mppa) by 2050, up from about 297 mppa in 2019 – a 23% rise – about 68 million. But if all the airport expansion plans went ahead, that might mean 532 mppa by 2050, (235 mppa more) which is over x3 the cap needed to meet UK climate pledges. This means if some airports expand, others cannot – or would have to contract. The government must decide by June whether to incorporate this into law, or to explain why it is rejecting the CCC’s advice. Heathrow’s 3rd runway alone could add 55 mppa.  The UK has to create a more effective way to allocate the remaining capacity for growth, rather than allow an “expansion frenzy” with decisions made by different bodies. 

Airport growth plans fly in face of climate targets

Despite the pandemic, Britain’s regional terminals are racing to expand and avoid a possible passenger cap

By Nicholas Hellen, Transport Editor (The Sunday Times)
Sunday February 14 2021

Overseas holidays are on hold and the aviation sector is on its knees, yet airports are pressing ahead with huge expansion plans before a proposed green cap on passenger numbers that would limit future growth.

Yorkshire made the first move on Thursday night, when a new £150 million terminal at Leeds-Bradford was approved — with local supporters insisting that if passengers were not able to fly from their local airport, they will simply travel from another.

Ambitious expansion schemes from Stansted, Luton, Gatwick and Southampton airports, which would increase annual passenger numbers by millions, all face public scrutiny.

The race for growth has been triggered by the Climate Change Committee, the government’s official advisory body. It has proposed a cap on passenger numbers to meet Boris Johnson’s decision to set the UK on the path to net zero emissions by 2050. It wants to limit any rise in passenger numbers to 365 million by 2050, up from 297 million in 2019. The government must decide by June whether to incorporate this into law, or to explain why it is rejecting the advice.

The problem is that if all airport expansion plans go ahead, capacity will soar to an estimated 532 million passengers by 2050, more than three times the growth proposed to meet climate pledges.

Heathrow, which is still committed to a third runway, could expand passenger numbers from 81 million in 2019 to 136 million in 2050, an increase of 55 million and almost single-handedly using up all the headroom for expansion.

If, however, other airports are allowed to grow, they could grab the remaining allowance. Between them, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton could fly an additional 58 million passengers by 2050. Gatwick, which wants to turn its emergency northern runway into regular use as a second runway, intends to launch a detailed statutory consultation in the summer.

The Aviation Environment Federation.

A public inquiry into Stansted’s expansion began last month, and Luton, which wants to build a second terminal, will submit its application for a development consent order some time this year.

Bristol airport announced that it would appeal after its expansion plans were rejected on environmental grounds, and a final decision on whether Southampton airport may lengthen its runway by 538ft (164m) is expected in March.

Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, which calculated the figures, pointed out that the French government had decided last week that climate pledges meant Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris had to abandon plans for a fourth terminal, which would be capable of handling up to 40 million passengers a year.

He said the UK, too, had to devise a better way to allocate the remaining capacity for growth, rather than allow an “expansion frenzy” with decisions split between the courts, local planning authorities and the transport secretary. “The government’s climate advisers have closed the door to new airport expansions, stressing that the UK already has sufficient capacity to meet the limited amount of passenger growth deemed compatible with achieving net zero emissions,” he said.

The airports hope to persuade the government that there are alternatives to capping passenger numbers and that the Climate Change Committee has been too pessimistic about the scope for new aircraft technology and sustainable aviation fuel to reduce carbon emissions over the coming years.

Gatwick said in a statement: “We prefer to focus on net carbon reduction through innovation, which will also maintain the UK’s research and development and skilled jobs, rather than curbing all future growth in aviation demand.”

A spokesman for Heathrow said: “Combined with new aircraft technologies and global offsetting schemes, we can take the carbon out of flying even as we grow, protecting the benefits of aviation for the UK without the need for an artificial cap on passengers.”


See also:


Committee on Climate Change – recommendations to government – lots on aviation carbon changes and policies needed

The Committee on Climate Change has published its guidance for the UK government on its Sixth Carbon Budget, for the period 2033 – 37, and how to reach net-zero by 2050.  There is a great deal of detail, many documents, many recommendations – with plenty on aviation. The intention is for UK aviation to be net-zero by 2050, though the CCC note there are not yet proper aviation policies by the UK government to achieve this. International aviation must be included in the Sixth Carbon budget. If the overall aviation CO2 emissions can be reduced enough, it might be possible to have 25% more air passengers in 2050 than in 2018. The amount of low-carbon fuels has been increased from the CCC’s earlier maximum realistic estimates of 5-10%, up to perhaps 25% by 2050, with “just over two-thirds of this coming from biofuels and the remainder from carbon-neutral synthetic jet fuel …” Residual CO2 emissions will need to be removed from the air, and international carbon offsets are not permitted. There is an assumption of 1.4% efficiency improvement per year, or at the most 2.1%. There “should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its net emissions trajectory.”  The role of non-CO2 is recognised, but not included in carbon budgets; its heating effect must not increase after 2050.  And lots more …

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Committee on Climate Change advises UK government to commit to reducing emissions by 68% cf. 1990 by 2030 (64% including IAS)

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK government’s official advisers on climate matters, will give its formal advice on the the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget on 9th December 2020. Meanwhile the CCC’s Chairman, Lord Deben, has written to the Sec of State at BEIS, Alok Sharma, in response to his request for advice on the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), under the Paris Agreement.  The CCC is advising that the UK should commit to reducing territorial emissions by at least 68% from 1990 to 2030.  It is equivalent to a 64% reduction including international aviation and shipping (IAS) emissions, the basis of the CCC recommended Sixth Carbon Budget.  This would place the UK among the leading countries in climate ambition. This is necessary, to give world leadership, as the UK hosts the COP26 talks in November 2021. However, the CCC say the 68% cut excludes emissions from IAS. There should be “additional actions to reduce the UK’s contribution to IAS emissions.” The CCC says of IAS: “these emissions …must be addressed if the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement is to be met. The UK’s NDC should include clear commitments to act on emissions from international aviation and shipping, including both long-term and interim targets.”

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Leeds Bradford airport

Leeds City Council approves Leeds Bradford airport plans for new terminal (ie. more passengers, more carbon, more noise)

Leeds City Council has approved (subject to additional conditions still to be negotiated) Leeds Bradford Airport’s plans for a larger terminal to accommodate more passengers. This decision will entrench in the Leeds economy the growth of a carbon intensive industry. There is no certainty that the promised jobs will actually materialise, as the sector increasingly automates work. Objectors including climate scientists, transport experts and residents’ groups, warned such an expansion would help facilitate catastrophic climate change, as well as unbearable levels of noise pollution for those living close by. The application sought to demolish the existing passenger pier to accommodate a new terminal building and forecourt area. This would also include the construction of supporting infrastructure, goods yard and mechanical electrical plant. There are also plans to modify flight time controls, and to reduce the night-time flight period, with a likely increase from 5 to 17 flights between 6am and 7am.  A professor of transport planning said there are inadequate contributions to road and rail infrastructure. Local group GALBA says there could still be a legal decision against the  proposals.

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Luton airport

Feb 18th – deadline for comments on application by Luton airport to increase passenger cap from 18m to 19mppa

Luton Airport has submitted a planning application (21/00031/VARCON) to Luton Borough Council to increase the annual cap on passenger throughput by 5.5% from 18m to 19mppa. Also to expand the day and night noise contours by 11.3% and 15.3% respectively until 2028, when they would be reduced somewhat, but still a net growth from today’s levels. Annual plane movements are forecast to grow by no more than 0.8%. The deadline for responses is February 18th. The airport is arguing that more larger planes means that the extra passengers can be accommodated without a huge increase in plane numbers. They also claim the anticipated new planes will be less noisy and emit less carbon … (’twas ever thus…) These wonderful planes or technologies don’t yet exist. The motivation for the increase in the passenger number cap has been rising demand, before the Covid pandemic struck. Future air traffic demand is uncertain.  The “elephant in the room” is  the conflict of interest of Luton Borough Council being both the planning authority and the owner of the airport.  But Hertfordshire County Council is set to formally object to the plans, largely on grounds of noise nuisance.

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Gatwick airport

AEF explains why Gatwick expansion adds to UK’s aviation CO2 headache – at least 1 million tonnes more CO2 per year

If Gatwick was allowed to increase its number of flights and passengers, that would be a huge increase in its carbon emissions. Already the UK aviation sector is not on track to stay under even the outdated cap of 37.5MtCO2. That was when the UK was aiming for an 80% cut in carbon emissions, compared to 1990, by 2050. But now the UK has signed up to zero carbon  – ie. 100% cut – by 2050.  The corresponding carbon cap for aviation would then be more like below 30MtCO2 by 2050. As the ongoing growth, from incremental increases in flights and passengers from most UK airports, will take the UK aviation sector well over the 37.5MtCO2 limit, let alone the 30MtCO2 cap. So there is absolutely no room for a Heathrow 3rd runway, or the semi-new-runway at Gatwick – achieved by making use of its emergency runway for much of the time. The AEF has pointed out that Gatwick’s Masterplan is for 390,000 flights per annum by 2032/33, around 39% more than in 2018.  Gatwick carefully avoids giving any CO2 estimates in future, let alone to 2050. Extrapolating the carbon emissions from 2017 estimates by the DfT, it is likely that Gatwick’s carbon emissions would rise by about 1Mt CO2 per year, to 3.6MtCO2 (or more, if Gatwick has a larger % of long-haul flights in future) if it uses its emergency runway as a second runway.

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Bristol airport

Bristol Airport expansion: comments can be submitted on the appeal – 11th Jan to 22nd Feb

Members of the public are being urged to submit their views on the expansion of Bristol airport, to the Planning Inspectorate, ahead of public inquiry this summer.  The consultation started on 11th January, and end on 22nd February.  The airport appealed against a decision by North Somerset Council to reject its expansion plans which would see passenger numbers grow from 10 million to 12 million per year. The public inquiry heard by an independent planning inspector, would probably last 3-4 weeks, and is likely to start in July. Local campaigners are now getting ready to fight the appeal.  They say any expansion of the airport would lead to congested roads, increased noise, loss of green belt, negative impact on the local environment from the proposed growth in flights – as well as the impact on climate change.  Campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) is angry that the airport’s management has been instructed by wealthy owners, the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, to appeal the original decision made in March 2020. Bristol City Council also opposed the expansion with North Somerset Council saying it will ‘robustly defend’ the appeal.

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Groups write to Government asking for a moratorium on airport expansion planning applications

Representatives of groups at some of the largest UK airports have written to both the Secretaries of State for Transport, and Housing, Communities and Local Government, to request a halt to airport expansion.  The letter asks them to suspend the determination by all planning authorities of applications to increase the physical capacity of UK airports, or their approved operating caps, until there is a settled UK policy position against which such applications can be judged.  Many UK airports are seeking – or have announced their intention to seek – planning approval to increase their capacity and/or their operating caps. In aggregate it has been estimated that proposals announced by UK airports would increase the country’s airport capacity by over 70% compared to 2017.  There is no settled UK policy on aircraft noise, or  policy on aviation carbon and how the sector will, as the CCC advises,  “limit growth in demand to at most 25% above current levels by 2050”. The letter says: “Until a settled policy with set limits is established for greenhouse gas emissions and noise there should be a moratorium on all airport expansion planning applications.”

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