General News

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

 

France’s ban on short flights should be a wake-up call for action on air travel by Britain

The French national assembly has voted to ban domestic flights on routes that could be travelled via train in under two and a half hours. This is the first time any major economy has prohibited domestic air travel for environmental reasons. It’s also far more drastic than anything the UK has done to curb flight emissions. We shouldn’t overstate the impact of the French domestic flight ban – or the extent to which its politicians are listening to its citizens’ concerns about the climate crisis. Nevertheless, the ban recognises that we can’t tackle climate change without some actual curbs on air travel. Up until now, the idea that there might be hard limits to consumption in a carbon-constrained world has been anathema to politicians everywhere. This ban is an important step towards accepting that curbing consumption is essential for driving down emissions. Finding fair ways to impose these limits in practice will be difficult. But banning unnecessary domestic flights should be the easiest place to start. Even if we can develop some technological solutions to aviation emissions, the Committee on Climate Change still finds that deliberate policies to limit the demand for flights will be needed to reach climate targets. Leo Murray sets out how far we need to go on this.

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In coming years, it might be possible to get the sleeper train from London to Europe …?

A new night rail service in 2022 was announced last week between Brussels and Prague, stopping at Amsterdam, Berlin and Dresden, with tickets expected to cost from €60 one way. It is possible there might again be sleeper trains available between Britain and Europe, via the Channel Tunnel, though it cannot happen soon. As the UK is a bit outside Europe, further away, the sleeper makes sense. In the 1990s, a fleet of trains was built for night trains between the UK and Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Cologne. But rising construction costs and the rise in the popularity of budget airlines made the project redundant. The plan was formally dumped in 1999. Some of the difficulties are that trains would need to be bespoke rather than sourced from existing rolling stock, driveable from each end, with sufficient fire safety precautions. It would not be possible to keep fares as low as the cheap airlines, but the “Greta Thunberg effect” on public attitudes to flight and climate change would probably mean people want to travel by rail. The night train between Brussels and Prague is due to start in spring 2022. "You wake up the next morning, you open your curtain and you’re in different worlds. I mean, how great is that?

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Campaigners call for temporarily moratorium on airport expansion until there is new UK policy on aviation carbon

There is currently no UK government policy on aviation carbon emissions, or airport expansion policy across the country. While the Committee on Climate Change says there should be no NET increase in airport capacity, it is unclear how this is to work. Meanwhile many airports are trying to push through expansion plans, to get them approved by local authorities as soon as possible. In the absence of proper UK policy, local decision are just being made by local councils, with no over-arching big picture logic.  The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) is asking for a temporary moratorium on airport expansion plan decisions. Cait Hewitt of AEF said local airport applications show "the climate impact of airport expansion is not something that can be easily determined at a local level. The government really needs to get its act together in terms of setting out how the aviation sector in the UK is going to play its part in delivering net zero ... We would support a moratorium on airport expansions until the government has figured out what its policy is on aviation and net zero.”  AEF research showed that if all expansion plans put forward by UK airports were to proceed, it would cause an additional 9 MtCO2 to be emitted each year by 2050.

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Heathrow owners divided about plan to raise £2.8bn by higher charges (due to Covid losses)

Heathrow is facing the spectre of a divided boardroom over its plan to raise billions of pounds from airlines and customers by increasing airport prices. State-backed Qatar Airways, whose owner is Heathrow’s 2nd-biggest shareholder, said Heathrow’s plans to recoup £2.8bn is “unreasonable, not in the consumer interest and should be rejected”. Qatar Airways' boss, Akbar Al Baker, is a representative for the state of Qatar on Heathrow’s board of directors. Despite huge cuts in traffic, Heathrow claims it has enough cash reserves to cope with this year, even if there are low passenger numbers. There was recently a consultation about how much the CAA will let Heathrow charge airlines, in order to recoup cash lost due to the pandemic.  Heathrow has threatened legal action if the CAA does not allow this. 

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French lawmakers in the National Assembly approve a ban on domestic flights, where train takes under 2hrs 30mins

In a recent vote, the French National Assembly voted to abolish domestic flights by any airline on routes than can be covered by train in under two-and-a-half hours, as the government seeks to lower carbon emissions - even while the airline industry has been hit by the pandemic. A citizens’ climate forum established by Macron to help form climate policy had called for the scrapping of flights on routes where the train journey is below 4 hours, or 6 hours. The bill goes to the Senate before a third and final vote in the lower house, where Macron’s ruling party and allies dominate. The measure is part of a broader climate bill that aims to cut French carbon emissions by 40% in 2030 from 1990 levels, though activists accuse President Emmanuel Macron of watering down earlier promises in the draft legislation.  However, the French government will contribute to a €4 billion ($4.76 billion) recapitalisation of Air France, more than doubling its stake in the airline, to keep it going during the Covid crisis. The Industry Minister said there was no contradiction between the bailout and the climate bill (sic) and despite carbon targets, companies had to be supported.  McKinsey analysts forecast that air traffic may not return to 2019 levels before 2024. 

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YouGov poll shows 45% of business travellers (in 7 European countries) planning to cut future flights

A YouGov poll surveyed business travellers in 7 European countries including the UK, in December 2020 and January 2021.  It found overall 45% said they would be flying less often in future - when Covid restrictions end - and 38% said their air travel would be about the same as before. The reduction would be because of videoconferencing. The reduction in the need to take business flights and travel abroad had been seen as positive by 20% of business flyers, and it had not negatively affected their work life or productivity. Business fliers tend to fly far more often than most holidaymakers, with 10% of those in the poll taking more than 10 flights in the year up to the first lockdown in March 2020.  Business passengers provide a huge part of legacy airline income, so without them, the price of air tickets would have to rise. Carbon emissions from aviation were growing at 5.7% a year before the pandemic, despite many countries committing to cut all emissions to net zero by 2050 to tackle the climate crisis. Green campaigners argue that the aviation shutdown provides an opportunity to put the sector on a sustainable trajectory.  The poll was commissioned by the European Climate Foundation.

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Southampton Airport runway extension plans approved by Eastleigh Council

Eastleigh Borough Council has voted (finally at 2.15am!) to agree to allow Southampton Airport to extend its runway by 164 metres. This will lead to larger planes using the airport, and thus flights to more distant destinations, more passengers and higher carbon emissions. 22 councillors voted in favour of the proposals; 13 councillors voted against the plans and 1 abstained.This followed 19 hours of debate. Opponents have fought against the plans not only due to the carbon emissions, but also the extra noise for surrounding areas, and air pollution.  The standard justification for these expansions are local economic benefit, and more jobs - even though the net impact is to encourage more local people to fly abroad on holiday, spending their holiday money there.  It is likely that the number of people affected by noise would go from 11,450 in 2020 to 46,050 in 2033, if the expansion happens.  Officers hoped that increased home noise insulation would help, but that has no impact if windows are open, or when outdoors. There are claims of "1,000 new jobs" - based on experience at other airports, that is very unlikely indeed. The CCC advice is that there should be no net airport expansion; so if one expands, another should contract.  Likely?

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Climate campaigners call for halt to regional UK airports expansion, to avoid aviation CO2 growth

The Aviation Environment Federation says the UK government must intervene to stop the planned expansion of a number of small airports around the country if it is to meet legally binding environmental targets and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Seven regional airports have devised plans to expand their operations, despite fierce opposition from climate scientists and local people, who argue the proposals are incompatible with UK efforts to address the climate and ecological crisis.  The decision on whether to allow a new terminal at Leeds Bradford has been delayed. The AEF says the government must go further and intervene to halt the other schemes which, taken together, would release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The expansions are against the recommendations fo the government's climate advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, who say there should be no net airport expansion.  ie. if one expands, another has to contract (there are no volunteers).  The time is well overdue for government take a proper strategic overview of the climate impact of airport expansion proposals rather than leave it up to individual local authorities. There needs to be proper policy for aviation carbon, which is sadly lacking.

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UK government criticised by prominent scientists and lawyers, for ignoring Paris climate goals in infrastructure decisions

Prominent scientists and lawyers (including Jim Hansen, Sir David King and Prof Jeffrey Sachs) have written to ministers and the Supreme Court, to say the UK government’s decision to ignore the Paris climate agreement when deciding on major infrastructure projects undermines its presidency of UN climate talks this year.  The Heathrow case is a key example, when a 3rd runway was approved in principle by government (2019) and the Supreme Court finally ruled in December 2020 that the government had not needed to take the Paris climate goals into account. The UK is due to host the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November, regarded as one of the last chances to put the world on track to meet the Paris goals.  It is dangerous for the highest court in the land to set a bad precedent. The letter, signed by over 130 scientists, legal and environmental experts, says that the Supreme Court "set a precedent that major national projects can proceed even where they are inconsistent with maintaining the temperature limit on which our collective survival depends.” And “Indeed, the precedent goes further still. It says that the government is not bound even to consider the goals of an agreement that is near universally agreed."

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Plans for expansion of Leeds Bradford airport put on hold – after government direction – giving time for a decision to “call in”

The government has issued a direction to Leeds City Council, preventing councillors from granting planning permission for Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) expansion, without special authorisation. This means the expansion of LBA is now on hold.  The direction – set out in section 31 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 – will give further time to Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, (MHCLG) to consider whether to formally “call in” the planning application for a public inquiry. The plans to build a new terminal building on the green belt had been given conditional approval by Leeds City Council in February, despite widespread opposition from local MPs, residents and environmental groups. Campaigners argued the expansion would make a mockery of efforts to tackle the climate crisis and undermine the government’s credibility ahead of a key climate conference later this year. The issue is of more than local importance, and a full public inquiry - chaired by a planning inspector, or lawyer - would mean all the evidence being properly considered. The inquiry would then make its recommendation to Robert Jenrick, to make the final decision.

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