Wed 6 Apr 2011 – Those looking for answers on how the UK coalition government plans to deal with prospective air transport growth in a carbon-constrained world will have to wait another two years. Following its early declaration on taking office nearly a year ago to scupper the previous government’s plans for new runways at London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, the coalition has so far only managed to come up with a “better, not bigger” slogan to guide its aviation policy. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has now invited comments on a scoping document that sets out the key principles and challenges of a new greener aviation policy, which the government expects will eventually be adopted by March 2013. Meanwhile, the UK industry group Sustainable Aviation has published its third progress report.
Preparations for the British Airways 'Perfect Flight' in July 2010 (photo: BA)
The central theme of the UK government’s scoping document, ‘Developing a sustainable framework for UK aviation’, is how aviation can grow while addressing its environmental impacts such as carbon emissions as well as local noise and air quality issues. Comments on the document are invited until the end of September and a draft aviation policy framework will then be published for consultation in March 2012.
“Aviation is a crucial part of this country’s transport infrastructure, it should be able to grow, prosper and support wider economic growth. But we are not prepared to support this growth at any price – the environmental impacts of flying, both local and global, must be addressed,” said Hammond.
“However, it would be wrong to suggest that the government holds all the answers. That is why this document asks a wide range of interested parties for their views on the key questions we face. Clearly we won’t agree on everything, but by working closely with key stakeholders at this early stage, we can provide a policy framework for aviation which strikes a balance between different interests.”
In maintaining support for new runways – particularly at Heathrow – the previous Labour government had got the balance wrong in the face of local environmental impacts and mounting evidence of aviation’s growing contribution to climate change, accused Hammond in the foreword to the document. “We are not anti-aviation – we are anti-carbon,” he said, adding that effective international action was required.
“Aviation is a global industry and carbon is a global challenge. This is why we are committed to including aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System. But the aviation industry needs to do more, not just on emissions but also in terms of its other environmental impacts, particularly noise. The current pace of technological change is not fast enough to reconcile growth on the scale of recent years with meeting our climate change targets or, in relation to some airports, our aspirations on local environmental impacts.”
For the shorter term, the government has established a taskforce to consider how to make better use of the airport infrastructure and airspace capacity in the heavily congested South-East of England and will shortly announce plans for a consultation on night flights at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.
The government said it will respond in July to the 2009 report published by its independent advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on options for reducing UK aviation CO2 emissions out to 2050.
The Climate Change Act of 2008 commits the UK to reducing its net GHG emissions by at least 80% below the 1990 baseline by 2050. The Act currently excludes emissions from international flights, but it requires the government to set out the circumstances and the extent to which they should be included before the end of December 2012, or explain to Parliament why they have not been incorporated. The government said it will take account of advice from the CCC on the methodology for allocating an appropriate share of international emissions to the UK.
The CCC’s aviation report said aviation policy should be based on the assumption that demand growth between now and 2050 cannot exceed 60% if the UK is to meet the government’s target.
The government’s scoping document lays out a range of policies and technology and market-based measures at a national, European and international level that it expects will reduce the impact of aviation on climate change and other environmental issues such as noise and local air quality.
According to the document, the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS is estimated to reduce the net CO2 emissions from flights departing from UK airports by 90 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) between 2012 and 2020, and by around 12.5 MtCO2 per year by 2020.
Sustainable biofuels too will have a clear role in reducing CO2 emissions, it says, particularly where there are limited alternatives to fossil fuel. “The government will continue to work with European partners, the wider international community and industry to explore how to bring about a significant increase in the use of biofuels in aviation,” it states.
Meanwhile, in a speech to the Aviation Club in London, the Chair of Sustainable Aviation (SA), Jill Brady, said its Roadmap, published in 2008, was more optimistic than the CCC’s findings. “We remain confident that we can meet the government’s 2050 target without the need for demand growth to be artificially constrained,” said Brady, whose day job is Director of HR and External Affairs at Virgin Atlantic.
“We’ll review our Roadmap when the government publishes revised passenger demand and CO2 forecasts later this year. The Roadmap charts our path to reducing CO2 emissions to 2000 levels by 2050 and we’re confident that it will continue to be fundamentally robust.”
Brady said the upcoming consultation process by the government, along with a policy review by the opposition Labour Party, would become a crucial time for the Sustainable Aviation group, which is made up of UK airlines, airports and aerospace manufacturers.
“The Department for Transport has said that the industry needs to provide new evidence to support our contribution to the government’s thinking on the new policy framework,” she noted. “Frustrating though it is, we have to accept that we just haven’t made the case for our industry successfully enough, and we need to re-examine how to make the points that we think are so obvious more effectively. I know that Sustainable Aviation can make a valuable contribution to putting that right over the next two years.”
She said SA’s work during the previous two years had concentrated on initiatives such as the ‘Perfect Flight’ carried out last year by British Airways in association with airport operator BAA and NATS, the UK air navigation service, that saved around 350kg of fuel and one tonne of CO2 on a journey between Heathrow and Edinburgh (see article). SA’s Recycling Group had also brought together airlines and airports to tackle on-board waste recycling.
“Real progress has been made in many areas, not least in the management of aircraft waste and local air quality, identifying and proving new sustainable fuels, initiatives in air traffic management and airport procedures, and in offering a realistic assessment of the inter-dependencies between noise, CO2 and local air quality,” added Brady, who is now stepping down as Chair of SA and will be replaced by Matt Gorman, Director of Corporate Responsibility & Environment at BAA.
As well as the Roadmap review, Brady said that the group would work on non-CO2 impacts, follow up on the ‘Perfect Flight’ and onboard waste initiatives, and develop other operational improvements such as the Departures Code of Practice and continuous climb departures. “We will also undertake a serious piece of work on the social and economic value of the industry,” she added.
UK Department for Transport – ‘Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation’
Sustainable Aviation – Progress Report 2011
Sustainable Aviation – CO2 Roadmap (pdf)
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