BAA invented ‘green’ jumbo to help win Heathrow case

20.7.2008     (Sunday Times)

View the BAA documents

BAA, the operator of Heathrow, used the low emissions figures of a non-existent
green jumbo to help clinch the environmental case for a third runway.

The twin-engine 450-seat "virtual" jet was invented for the environmental modelling
required in the government consultation after BAA realised it would otherwise
exceed the limit for noise and pollution.

According to BAA submissions, the green jumbo will account for more flights out
of Heathrow by 2030 than four-engined giants such as the double-decker A380, or
the new generation of Boeing 747s.    It promises to be the world’s quietest and
cleanest jumbo.

"Nothing like this is on the drawing board," said one senior industry source.
"I don’t think it’s feasible because the size of engines that would be required
for this plane to safely take off don’t exist and aren’t under development."

New evidence of the flawed consultation, to be shown on BBC’s Panorama tomorrow,
will increase pressure on the government to review its plans for Heathrow’s expansion.
Ministers have already delayed the decision after a backlash against proposals
to permit an extra 220,000 flights a year.

The government has been accused of acting "like a subsidiary of BAA" over its
plans for Heathrow. John Hutton, the business secretary, signalled last week that
Heathrow growth was likely to be approved when he pledged the government was ready
to take "difficult decisions on airport expansion".

The Sunday Times revealed in March how BAA collaborated with the Department for
Transport (DfT) on the official consultation and repeatedly altered the data to
get the required result.   It has now emerged that one of the big concerns was
that four-engine jets would cause a disproportionate amount of noise and pollution
if a third runway was built.

BAA initially predicted that 20% of planes taking off from Heathrow by 2030 would
be four-engine jets. It subsequently cut that to 11% and then to 6%.

BAA’s "virtual" plane was quietly inserted into the evidence to reduce the number
of long-haul four-engine aircraft. The research was used by Ruth Kelly, the transport
secretary, to demonstrate how Heathrow could be expanded without causing more
noise or pollution.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Times under freedom of information laws show
DfT officials were sceptical. Last September, days before the results were to
be signed off by ministers, e-mails show officials were alarmed that BAA’s predictions
for a cleaner, quieter fleet might be too optimistic and would be challenged.

BAA responded that it could use "rules of thumb" for a quick fresh forecast,
but there was not enough time to produce robust research for publication.

It appears officials were left with no option but to use the airport operator’s
data and the green superjumbo.

BAA said last week its new jet was a realistic prediction. It said if such a
plane was not built the number of flights using Heathrow could be reduced to ensure
environmental limits were not breached.

Opponents of expansion say it is another example of how the consultation was
fixed. "This is an invented plane that experts say won’t be built," said Justine
Greening, the Conservative MP who has campaigned against the airport’s expansion.
"There is a point at which a biased process became a bogus process."

The DfT said the green jumbo was intended only as an "illustrative example".

[BBC’s Panorama investigation, Friends in High Places, is broadcast tomorrow
at 8.30pm]



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