General News

Below are links to stories of general interest in relation to aviation and airports.

 

Natural England objects to proposed jet fuel from waste plant, backed by BA, Shell and Velocys

BA has been trying to get some jet fuel made from domestic waste that would otherwise go to landfill, so it can claim it is using "low carbon" fuels. There were plans for a plant in east London, by Solena, back in 2014 but that never got off the ground; Solena went bust in October 2015. Now BA and Shell and Velocys are hoping for a plant on an 80-acre site on Humberside, to convert waste that would go to landfill, into jet fuel. However, Natural England are worried it could harm local wildlife and have filed an objection. Velocys says the plant would turn household waste into 60 million litres of "low-carbon" jet fuel every year. The project is backed by £4.5m of investment from Shell and British Airways, alongside a £434,000 grant from the Department of Transport. In a letter dated 20 February 2020 Natural England said it objects to the development because trucks ferrying waste to the site could increase nitrogen oxide levels - which can cause serious health impacts for humans and wildlife. It is also concerned construction and waste from the site could disturb nearby habitats for rare birds.  It is now for North East Lincolnshire Council to decide whether to approve the scheme.

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GMB call on Heathrow to reverse “kick in the teeth” reneging on paying London Living wage from April 2020

Historically the GMB union, which has the most members at Heathrow, have lobbied strongly all along the way for Heathrow expansion. They hope for more jobs. Even better paid ones. But Heathrow has often not done much to help its workers. With a struggle, in 2018, the GMB managed to get Heathrow to agree that contracted workers would be guaranteed London Living Wage of £10.55 per hour by April 2020. Now the GMB says workers are devastated to learn that "Heathrow Ltd have informed contract companies within its direct supply chain that is reneging on its agreement to fund implementation of the London Living Wage to its employees that was promised to workers from April 2020 onwards." GMB says this is unfair.  Heathrow is currently only working (from 6th April) with one runway due to the dramatic decline in air travel due to Covid-19.  The GMB says Heathrow much honour its agreement, to ensure workers (security, cleaning) etc still working at the airport -  employed by outsourced contractors - get the Living Wage from April 2020.  Workers were expecting this rise in their wage packets this April.

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Karl Turner asks: Where next for the UK’s airport policy?

On 27th February 2020 the Court of Appeal declared the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) to be illegal as the Government had not taken into consideration their commitments on climate under the Paris Agreement. So unless Heathrow succeeds in appealing to the Supreme Court, or Shapps amends the ANPS, Heathrow expansion is unlikely to happen. Expansion at Heathrow would have had a negative impact on the regions of the UK.  The forthcoming Aviation White Paper [Aviation Strategy] provides the opportunity for Government to have a rethink about its entire aviation policy, particularly with regard to any future airport expansion. At the very most, UK aviation could expand by 25% on its 2018 level. But the current government projections are for 73% expansion by 2050, with various entirely speculative technologies that do not exist, or would be prohibitively expensive, removing the carbon.  Alternative fuels are not going to happen on any scale. The government must avoid financial measures that boost aviation demand or support failing airline businesses, which cannot be justified in light of the climate crisis. . 

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Big airline polluters likely to increase their CO2 emissions post-Covid, unless this is better regulated

The carbon emissions of EU airlines grew in 2019. There will be a steep fall in their emissions for an unknown amount of time, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But air passenger numbers repeatedly broke records in the aftermath of global shocks such as the 2008 financial crisis, the September 11 attacks, the Gulf War […]

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What the Covid-19 pandemic can teach us about changes to life in future, and tackling climate change

There are lots of comments in the media about how society recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the unique opportunity the crisis has provided for a re-think of many aspects of our economies. Governments and business etc will want to go for maximum economic growth, as soon as the crisis has been dealt with. The climate and ecological crises the earth faces will not have gone away, and will continue to worsen unless decisive and effective action is taken. Time may have been wasted on cutting carbon emissions, due to the virus crisis. There is a risk of environmental constraints being abandoned, in the rush for a return of economic growth. But there is also talk of the de-growth economy - slowing of growth in sectors that damage the environment, such as fossil fuel industries, and strengthening others, until the economy operates within Earth’s limits.  Such a transformation would be profound, and so far no nation has shown the will to implement it. Coronavirus has caused unprecedented and rapid societal changes, and social constraints that would have been considered unimaginable just 2 months ago. There are practical lessons and opportunities we could take away from the coronavirus emergency as we seek to tackle climate change, though that is neither short-term, nor rapidly overcome.

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AEF asks: how should policymakers react to Covid-19 problems for aviation, and plan for the sector’s future?

The global changes to the aviation sector, caused by Covid-19, have been rapid and radical. It would have been impossible back in January to anticipate how many flights would be grounded, how air travel demand would sink, and how many airlines would be struggling to stay solvent. In a thoughtful piece by the AEF (Aviation Environment Federation), they consider how aviation policy needs to be re-thought, when the virus crisis is over. It is an opportunity to re-think society's relationship to air travel, in a world that has been woken up to the realities of a global pandemic, and its consequences. Even when the sector hopes, post-virus, to get back to "business as usual" flying, the long-term danger of climate breakdown remains - and the threat worsens. The AEF says it is time to cease aviation exceptionalism, and the special treatment is gets on environmental policies and regulations. This needs to change.  And there should not be measures to cut aviation tax, as demanded by the industry, that increase air travel demand. That is not justifiable. Covid-19 has demonstrated the desire, by millions, to look after and care about the welfare of others. Perhaps this virus wake up call could bring the dawning of a more responsible age.

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DfT consultation on “Decarbonising Transport” – nothing of substance to cut aviation CO2

The DfT has quietly published (no press release or announcement - we are in the Covid-19 crisis) a consultation about Decarbonising Transport.  The end date is around June, but not specified.  Shapps says: "2020 will be the year we set out the policies and plans needed to tackle transport emissions. This document marks the start of this process. It gives a clear view of where we are today and the size of emissions reduction we need."  And, less encouragingly: "We will lead the development of sustainable biofuels, hybrid and electric aircraft to lessen and remove the impact of aviation on the environment and by 2050..." (he actually believes electric planes will make much difference in a few decades??). It also says "Aviation, at present, is a relatively small contributor to domestic UK GHG emissions. Its proportional contribution is expected to increase significantly as other sectors decarbonise more quickly." And while saying we are working with ICAO on its CORSIA carbon scheme (unlikely to be effective) the document states: "...we would be minded to include international aviation and shipping emissions in our carbon budgets if there is insufficient progress at an international level." But overall the intention is to let demand for air travel continue to rise.

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Gatwick Airport will consolidate operations into the South Terminal from 1 April and limit runway opening hours

Gatwick will close its North Terminal and consolidate operations into the South Terminal from 1 April, for a month, due to the lack of demand for air travel because of COVID-19. The runway to be in use between 1400 and 2200 for scheduled flights, but will be available for emergency landings and diversions only, outside these hours. The situation will be reviewed after a month, by 1st May.  A decision on reopening the North Terminal will be taken when airline traffic eventually increases and Government public health advice – including on social distancing – is relaxed. Gatwick is hoping to make out that it is being "responsible" in closing, to protect the health of its staff and passengers, while it has been quite happy to have as many flights as it can, to and from other countries suffering high levels of Covid-19 infection, up until now.  It is only closing because of the economics, and to "protect its business."  In addition London City Airport has announced that it was suspending all commercial and private flights until the end of April. It is also possible that Birmingham Airport could serve as a mortuary during the Coronavirus crisis.

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Fresh indication that the government is not intending to support Heathrow expansion

The No 3rd Runway Coalition believe the Government has given its clearest hint yet that it will not support Heathrow expansion. In reply to a question put by Slough MP Tan Dhesi, the aviation minister, Kelly Tolhurst said that “The Court of Appeal has ruled that the designation of the Airports National Policy Statement has no legal effect unless and until this Government carries out a review”. The fresh use of the word “unless” implies consideration has been given to drop the project altogether.  The DfT also state that they are focussed on responding to Covid-19 at the moment, which presents further evidence that Heathrow expansion has slipped down the agenda. The Government also say that they “are carefully considering the Court of Appeal’s judgment and will set out our next steps in due course”. However, it is unclear how long is meant by “due course”. Heathrow is struggling, with few passengers, probably having to close one or more terminals, due to restrictions on air travel for an unknown period of time, due to Covid-19. A recent review of senior staff at Heathrow shows no longer a role for overseeing expansion. Heathrow now also appear not to be pushing for the "early release" of 25,000 extra flights, as this would depend on the NPS, which has now been deemed to be invalid, by the courts.

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Chancellor tells airlines that the government will not bail them out, due to Covid-19 crisis

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has written to the airlines and airports, warning that there would be no sector-wide rescue to prevent companies going out of business because of coronavirus. He insisted that further taxpayer support for the sector would only be possible once they had “exhausted other options” including raising money from shareholders, investors and banks. Companies have been told to access funding already announced last week, including monthly payments of up to £2,500 for every employee temporarily laid off because of the crisis. In his letter he said that airlines and airports could only seek “bespoke” support from the Treasury as a “last resort”, with no guarantee of further help. The comments follow criticism levelled at Easyjet after it paid shareholders £174 million in dividends last week, despite appealing for taxpayer support. Sir Richard Branson, has also been attacked after the airline told staff to take 8 weeks of unpaid leave. He has since promised to invest £215 million to support his Virgin Group business. Many airlines may go bankrupt due to the virus crisis. Some of the smaller airports may close, and larger airports partly close temporarily.

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