General News

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

 

European Commission under fire for including ‘carbon sinks’ (eg. forest) into EU climate goal of 55% cut on 1990 level by 2030

The EU has a current target of cutting carbon emissions by 40% on the 1990 level by 2030. But with the European Green Deal, it has been proposed that target should be increased to 55%. Some European countries do not want this - while climate experts say even greater carbon cuts are needed.  The European 55% target would include use of "carbon sinks" in the figures, so there is an assumed amount of carbon being absorbed by forests etc, meaning net carbon emissions would appear to be lower than they really are. This might be a difference of 2% or else perhaps 5%.  Some environmental campaign groups said this use of carbon sinks was “an accounting trick” and “Relying on forests to reach climate targets sends the wrong signal that it’s OK to keep polluting because the land will absorb it.” In Europe, forests are currently a net carbon sink because they take in more carbon dioxide than they emit.  But their capacity to absorb CO2 “has been shrinking” over the years, and if left unchecked, could further decline - due to cutting down trees and forest, and damage to them from fires, pests, more demand for biomass, and impacts of climate change. Mature forests have to be kept healthy, and just planting new saplings is not enough.

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Trainee air-traffic controllers told by NATS their training course is over and they have lost their jobs

Some trainee air-traffic controllers with only weeks before graduation have been told their training course is over and they will not get jobs. NATS, the UK air-traffic control provider, is the latest aviation employer to cut jobs.  The trade union for controllers’, Prospect, said the move was “a disastrously short-sighted and cruel decision”. Now there is little air traffic due to the pandemic, with about 11-12% as many air passengers in July 2020 as there were in July 2019. NATS said the trainees would be able to re-start training when air traffic increases, to 2019 levels, though many in the sector say this may not be for perhaps 3 years. A spokesperson for NATS said: “We currently have 275 trainees who have passed through the college and are waiting to re-start their on-the-job training at units across the country once traffic increases. ... we have [decided]  to pause training at our college, which means the 122 trainees have until the end of September to decide if they prefer to leave or wait to see if any redeployment opportunities emerge over the course of October.” As air traffic control becomes more automated, there may be fewer controllers needed in future.

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Plan B Earth case for Supreme Court appeal by Heathrow, against Appeal Court ruling that ANPS was illegal, due to Paris Agreement

On 7th and 8th October, there will be a Supreme Court hearing of the appeal, by Heathrow airport, against the ruling by the Appeal Court in February 2020 that the Government's Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was illegal. Heathrow cannot proceed with plans for a 3rd runway, without a legal ANPS.  The government itself decided not to challenge the Appeal Court decision - it is only Heathrow.  Friends of the Earth and Plan B Earth are defending the case. The decision of the Appeal Court was due to the failure of the ANPS to properly take into account the UK's commitment to the Paris Agreement (aiming to keep global climate warming to 1.5C) and thus its duty to keep carbon emissions from rising. Plan  B Earth has published its response, challenging the Heathrow claim that the Paris Agreement is "not" government policy.  It is a 29 page document, but the conclusion is copied here. It states that: "At the time of the designation of the ANPS in June 2018, the Secretary of State (SST) [Chris Grayling] knew, or ought to have known, that the Government had: a) rejected the 2˚C temperature limit as creating intolerable risks, in the UK and beyond  b) committed instead to the Paris Agreement and the Paris Temperature Limit, and that it had  c) committed to introducing a new net zero target in accordance with the Paris Agreement.  These matters were fundamental to Government policy relating to climate change and it was irrational for the SST to treat them as irrelevant.

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Academic study suggests post-Covid re-think of size of airline sector, its costs and impacts

In a new paper, published in Science Direct, Professor Stefan Gossling looks at the future of the airline industry, especially after the set-back it has had from Covid. He says it is important to “think the unthinkable”, and not only what is possible for aviation, but what is desirable for society ... most stakeholders in industry and policymakers would agree that it is desirable for aviation to become more resilient financially and more sustainable climatically ... COVID-19 has forced many airlines to reduce their fleets, retire old aircraft, or stop serving long-haul destinations  ... As a result, air transport capacity is diminished. Further reductions in capacity may be achieved by reducing subsidies ... A scenario for a resilient aviation system should have a starting point in the question of how much air transport is needed ...where risks are accounted for, and where their cost is part of the price paid for air travel. In a situation of reduced supply, there should be an opportunity for airlines to increase profitability ... Many questions need to be asked, such as those addressing volume growth, the sector's reliance on State aid, its unresolved environmental impacts, and hence the basic assumptions on which aviation operates.

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Heathrow urged by 5 councils to end 3rd runway ‘fantasy’ – instead focus on cutting CO2 and noise

Councils have called on Heathrow to abandon once and for all its bid for a third runway and concentrate instead on working with the aviation industry to achieve zero carbon emissions and reduce noise impacts for overflown communities. Heathrow is due to challenge February’s Court of Appeal ruling against the expansion plan in October  (7th and 8th) at the Supreme Court. The 5 councils, (Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Windsor and Maidenhead) say there is no logic in the airport persisting with its runway fantasy. Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, said: "COVID-19 has changed everything. This is a unique period when we are all rethinking traditional assumptions about how we work, travel and grow our economies. As local councils we want the industry to get back on its feet. But this won't work without a fundamental rethink about the place of aviation in our society – and indeed where future capacity is most needed. Even Heathrow's chief executive has admitted that a new runway would not be needed for years due to the pandemic. Yet still the airport and its shareholders press on with the process and the prize of a planning permission for a runway that will never be built."

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Tax-free sales by airports, ports etc for overseas visitors to end by 1st Jan 2021, with lower duty-free import allowances

The UK government is set to end tax-free sales at airports, ports and Eurostar stations from 1 January 2021. As the Brexit transition period comes to an end, the UK government cited “concerns over how the benefit is passed on to passengers and in some instances, the relief is not consistent with international tax principles.” The VAT retail export scheme, which currently enables EU visitors to claim refunds on goods purchased in the UK, will also be withdrawn from the same date. The airports are unhappy about this, as it will cut their income, and some jobs would be lost.  The Treasury said: "Overseas visitors  - including in the EU - will still be able to buy items VAT-free in store and have them sent direct to their overseas addresses, while the costly system of claiming VAT refunds on items they take home in their luggage will be ended.” It described the scheme as “a costly relief, which does not benefit the whole of Britain equally”, adding that the current use is mostly centred in London. Visitors arriving from EU and non-EU countries will be allowed 42 litres of beer, 18 litres of still wine and 9 litres of sparkling wine duty free from 1.1.2021 (much lower than currently).

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Heathrow area risks fate of 1980s mining towns, says airport boss – area too dependent on the airport

Perhaps even more than other airports like Gatwick and Luton, a large part of the economy around Heathrow has become over-dependent on the airport. Now the CEO of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye has said boroughs like Hounslow risk becoming like “a mining town in the 1980s” with the collapse in air traffic putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Many more people work in businesses associated with Heathrow, than directly for the airport itself.  In August, Heathrow had around 1.4 million passengers, which is less than 20% of its "normal" amount.  People are not flying for leisure, due to the risk of Covid itself, or the need to quarantine. There are few business trips, as they are being replaced by Zoom etc.  Many in the aviation sector do not think levels of flying will return to their 2019 levels for 2-3 years, or more - if ever.  Heathrow had losses of £1.1bn in the first half of 2020. Recently Heathrow issued formal section 188 notices, allowing it to potentially fire and rehire some 4,700 employees, after months of negotiations with unions representing its directly employed ground staff failed to produce an agreement. Section 188 means the airport can bypass negotiations after a 45-day period has elapsed. There might overall be 25,000 Heathrow-related job losses.

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Climate Assembly report: members aware future aviation CO2 has to be limited

The Climate Assembly was set up by the UK government in 2019. It consisted of 108 citizens, selected to be representative of the population and its views. They met over 6 weekends, with expert guidance and information, to discuss how the UK could get to net zero carbon by 2050. One of the many issues discussed was air travel. Overall there was wide support among the Assembly for limiting the growth of the sector, to some extent.  The anticipated growth of about 65% (from 2018 to 2050) was seen as too much. Many believed there would be advances in technology that would allow for increased numbers of passengers, but keeping to 30 MtCO2 aviation emissions by 2050 (the CCC's scenario). There was support for increasing the price of flying for frequent fliers, and those who flew long distances.  Assembly members wanted to see the airline industry invest in greenhouse gas removals, and in lower carbon technologies (which would make flying more expensive). Members wanted more engagement with the UK population, to understand the necessary changes. They wanted more parity between the cost of rail and flying, where flying is now often hugely cheaper. The committees behind the report have asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to respond before the end of the year.

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Heathrow saddled with £504 million bill from thwarted expansion

Heathrow has been left with a £500M bill from its thwarted 3rd runway expansion. The airport chose to spend a lot up-front, in its plans to get a new runway, even before waiting for the legal challenges and approval of its DCO (Development Consent Order). Heathrow hoped it could charge airlines using the airport for these costs. It was always a risk that the runway would not happen, and the money spent in promoting it and planning for it would be sunk. The  Court of Appeal ruled against the Airports NPS in February, on grounds of the carbon emissions the 3rd runway would generate. The appeal by Heathrow will be heard on 7th and 8th October.  Meanwhile the CAA has restricted the amount Heathrow can charge airlines - and now there has been a massive reduction in Heathrow air traffic, and income, due to Covid. The New Civil Engineer gives a breakdown of what Heathrow (unwisely) spent, in the expectation the runway would definitely go ahead. According to the CAA’s Economic regulation of Heathrow: policy update and consultation, the costs are broken down into £394M of planning (category B) and £110M of early construction (category C) costs.  These include ground investigations, all sorts of advisors, and designers.

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BA hits out over £500m bill (Category B costs) for Heathrow failed 3rd runway plans that it wants to pass on to airlines

A row has erupted between Heathrow and British Airways, its largest airline, over the plans to get airlines to pay the £500m bill relating to the airport’s third runway expenses so far. A regulatory consultation by the CAA recommends allowing Heathrow to charge carriers for expansion costs incurred until February this year. These are called "Category B" (£500m) and early "Category C" costs, associated with getting planning consent.  CAA regulations allow Heathrow to increase charges in line with costs incurred.  Willie Walsh, the outgoing boss of IAG, that owns BA, has repeatedly clashed with Heathrow over the framework, which he has said encourages the airport to “spend recklessly."  IAG has never wanted to pay for Heathrow's costs in developing the runway (partly as the extra capacity at Heathrow would increase competition with BA by other airlines). CAA director Richard Stephenson said it was reviewing responses to the ­consultation (held in summer 2019) and had yet to make a ­decision.  Heathrow has pressed ahead, spending a great deal on its runway plans, even before legal obstacles had been cleared. The restriction of early spending by the CAA meant a delay in the runway timetable of 2-3 years.

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