Below are links to stories of general interest in relation to aviation and airports.
Airlines and others depend on the “giant loophole” of future (unproven) carbon removal technologies
Governments and businesses worldwide are hoping they will be able to avoid making drastic carbon cuts, and instead somehow remove carbon from the air - avoiding climate breakdown. The UK's Committee on Climate Change has advised the UK government that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) at scale, will be needed. All climate goals for "net-zero" depend to some extent on this rather dubious future "get out of jail free" technology. Now a paper by Greenpeace shows the extent to which these aspirations to remove CO2 from the atmosphere have become (as was predicted) a huge loophole. Aviation is one of the sectors that most needs to depend on carbon removal, as its plans for continuing growth mean more fuel burned - and more carbon. The IPCC reports that the maximum sustainable CO2 removal in 2050 by new forests is between 500 - 3,600 Mt per year. The maximum for BECCS is 500 - 5,000 MtCO2. Greenpeace says IAG alone anticipates using forests to offset 30 MtCO2/ year by 2050: thus exhausting up to 6% of the available total (if that was 500Mt). For American Airlines, CDR will be used to offset emissions equivalent to about 50% of the present total; for IAG it is over 95%.
Norwegian is ending its low-cost long-haul flights, to focus on European routes only
Norwegian Air says it is ending its long-haul operation, and end its plans for low-cost long distance flying. It had to ground most of its fleet throughout 2020 – its long-haul Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets have not been used since March. Even before Covid, it long-haul flights (to the US, Argentina and Brazil) at stupidly low prices were not making money, and Norwegian had financial troubles. In 2013, after 20 years as a standard short-haul carrier, it had its first budget transatlantic flights – firstly from Oslo, and in 2014 from Gatwick. One-way economy fares between the UK and US cost from just £125. For that price there was no free check-in baggage, or food or drink. The first flight between Gatwick and Seattle cost £150. Gatwick was its long-haul base in the UK. In 2019, it flew more passengers between the US and UK than any other airline, to 12 US destinations. Margins were very tight, and the airline had rising debt in 2019. By April 2020, 80% of its staff were on furlough. So there will be no long-haul flights by Norwegian at Gatwick, but their flights to European destinations will continue.
Heathrow passengers down 72.7% in 2020 (cf. 2019). ATMs down 57.8%. Cargo down 28.2%
Heathrow has published its figures for 2020, which was a year made completely abnormal, by the Covid pandemic. Heathrow's number of passengers was 72.7% lower than in 2019, with 22.1 million passengers, compared to 80.9 million in 2019 (ie. 58.8 million fewer). As planes were less full than usual, with lower load factor, the number of flights (ATMs) was down by 57.8% for the year, compared to 2019 .The amount of cargo carried was down by 28.2%, which Heathrow blames partly on the limited number of passenger planes, the holds of which normally contain cargo. The largest reduction in air passengers was to North America (79.5% down). Until Covid, the number of Heathrow passengers rose relentlessly, even though the airport claims it is "full" (it always had extra terminal capacity). In 2009 it had 65.9 million passengers; in 2016 it had 75.7 million; in 2017 it had 78.0 million; in 2018 it had 80.0 million; and in 2019 it had 80.9 million. The number of flights (ATMs) in 2020 was 200,905; in 2018 was 480,339 and the number in 2019 was 479,811 (the figure is capped at 480,000 per year).
Stansted Airport Public Inquiry into expansion plans – started 12th January
After over 3 years of fierce resistance by the local community, the proposed expansion of Stansted Airport will be decided by a Public Inquiry which opens on Tuesday 12th January. The outcome will determine whether Uttlesford, East Herts, and other surrounding districts will continue to consist of largely rural communities or will, in time, become further blighted and urbanised in the same way as large areas around Gatwick and Heathrow airports. Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) considers it entirely irrational, and potentially dangerous, for the Government’s Planning Inspectorate to insist that the Public Inquiry must start at the height of the Covid pandemic. Stansted already has permission for 35 million passengers and its passenger throughput peaked at 28 million in 2018, with passenger numbers in decline since mid-2019, long before the pandemic. In 2020, Stansted handled just 7 million passengers and has forecast that it will take years to return to pre-pandemic levels. Plainly, there is no urgency to increase the current planning cap.
Letting Gatwick convert its emergency runway for full use would require capacity restrictions at other airports
Plans to bring Gatwick's emergency runway into regular use would only be possible with a government intervention to prevent other airport expansions. This is what the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) advice indicates. The deputy director of the Aviation Environment Federation, Cait Hewitt, said: “Allowing Gatwick's emergency runway to be used routinely as a second runway would only be possible if the government was to intervene to restrict capacity elsewhere in the UK, presumably by removing existing planning permissions - not an easy step to take” - and that the CCC advice makes it clear that “aviation can no longer be let off the hook when it comes to UK climate policy ... The CCC's advice should represent a line in the sand when it comes to airport expansion. ... Airport expansion runs directly counter to the net zero agenda. It has to stop.” The Gatwick plans mean the emergency runway could be operating short-haul flights, by the end of the decade. The CCC's advice to government on the Sixth Carbon Budget, published on 9th December 2020, advises the government that any increase in UK airport capacity would need to be matched by restrictions at other airports to ensure no ‘net increase’.
EasyJet secures £1.4bn state-backed bailout to help survive the coronavirus pandemic
EasyJet has got a £1.4 billion 5-year state-backed loan to help it survive Covid. The loan has been underwritten by a group of banks; it is part-guaranteed by UK Export Finance, a government agency. Easyjet will not be able to pay dividends for the term of the loan under conditions it has agreed. The loan has been secured against aircraft, and it means the airline can reduce its £369m overdraft and deal with its other loan of £400m. This is the second British airline to get a loan part guaranteed by the UK government, as British Airways got theirs a few days earlier. Easyjet's boss said the airline has "now secured more than £4.5billion in liquidity since the beginning of the pandemic." The airlines are all hoping by the second half of 2021, enough people will be vaccinated that they will start flying - in their droves - once again. If there is not such a recovery, some airlines may not survive.
UK to need any arrivals to have negative Covid test under 72 hours earlier, but 10 day proper quarantine mandatory after arrival
The UK government is saying that, from Thursday 14th January, all international travellers, including Britons abroad, will have to produce evidence of a negative coronavirus test result (test under 72 hours from leaving the country) to enter England and Scotland, under new restrictions. This applies to those arriving by air, or by ferry or the Channel Tunnel. Those who arrive in England and Scotland without a negative test will face £500 on-the-spot fines. The period of 72 hours was chosen rather than the (better) 48 hours, as people abroad may find it difficult to get the test results that fast. The measure does not, of course, prevent people arriving in the UK carrying Covid virus, that either was not detected in the test (some are only 50-60% accurate), but also virus infection that they were incubating at the time of the test. People will be required to isolate themselves for 10 days - "mandatory self isolation" - though there is no means to enforce it, or prevent people going to shops, on public transport etc, on their way home. Children aged under 11 and hauliers will not have to be tested. Some have called for a test on arrival in the UK too, as well as as enhanced monitoring and enforcement of the quarantine. There are fears the South African strain of Covid may not be prevented by some vaccines, and it can enter the UK (some already has) and vaccines are the only way to stop the pandemic.
Letter to DfT: The Airports National Policy Statement should now be withdrawn, as it is out of date
The Supreme Court ruled, on December 16th, that the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) was legal. The ANPS is the policy document necessary to Heathrow to proceed with plans for a 3rd runway. But the Court ruling does NOT give the runway consent. The government did not challenge the earlier ruling, in February, by the Appeal Court. The ANPS was written around 2017-18 and approved in Parliament in June 2018. Since then, life has moved on, and it is very out of date. The economics of the situation have changed; awareness of the climate implications of a runway is hugely greater; the Committee on Climate Change has given its advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget, and that aviation growth has to be constrained; knowledge has increased about the health impacts of air pollution from aircraft; and now Covid has reduced demand for air travel, which may never recover to its 2019 level. Neil Spurrier, from the Teddington Action Group (TAG) has written to the DfT to ask that the ANPS is now withdrawn. He says the ANPS "is now completely out of date and should be withdrawn. I request that this is done pursuant to a review under section 6 of the Planning Act 2008 ..." See Neil's full letter.
Government legal restrictions on flying abroad in Covid lockdown – holidays, leisure trips are NOT allowed
The government guidance on travel abroad, under Covid lockdown in England, from 4th January 2021. "You can only travel internationally – or within the UK – where you first have a legally permitted reason to leave home. In addition, you should consider the public health advice in the country you are visiting. If you do need to travel overseas (and are legally permitted to do so, for example, because it is for work), even if you are returning to a place you’ve visited before, you should look at the rules in place at your destination and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice. UK residents currently abroad do not need to return home immediately. However, you should check with your airline or travel operator on arrangements for returning. Foreign nationals are subject to the ‘Stay at Home’ regulations. You should not travel abroad unless it is permitted. This means you must not go on holiday. If foreign nationals are visiting the UK, you may return home. You should check whether there are any restrictions in place at your destination. You cannot leave your home or the place where you are living for holidays or overnight stays unless you have a reasonable excuse for doing so. This means that holidays in the UK and abroad are not allowed."
British Airways to get a £2 billion loan, backed by UK Export Finance. It had a £300 million loan earlier
British Airways has been asking for financial help, to get it through the Covid pandemic. Now it has had a new £2 billion funding boost, through a state-backed loan. Its parent company, IAG, has secured commitments for a 5-year loan, underwritten by a syndicate of banks. It is being partially guaranteed by state-backed credit agency UK Export Finance (UKEF) and details are being finalised. The loan has covenants, including perhaps restrictions on dividend payments by the airline to IAG. The money will keep BA going until, it hopes, effective Covid vaccines during 2021 will enable air travel to resume, in high numbers. IAG said it "continues to have strong liquidity with cash and undrawn facilities of €8 billion as at November 30, excluding the UKEF facility.” But it is also looking at other sources of money. BA had previously received £300 million over a year from a Bank of England loan programme for the UK’s biggest companies. It also claimed support from the taxpayer-funded furlough scheme. IAG made a pre-tax loss of £6.2 billion pre-tax loss for the first 9 months of 2020, on revenues down 66% to £6.5 billion. BA is also cutting a quarter of its workforce - so losing 12,000 staff.