Aviation must tackle its environmental impact before it can be allowed to grow, says UK's aviation regulator
Fri 27 Jan 2012 – Although aviation is a key driver of growth, without tackling its global and local environmental impact, the industry will not be able to realise its economic potential, says the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The regulatory body has opened a three-month consultation period as it seeks to define and develop its own environmental role, and help aviation to improve its environmental performance. In a document published to coincide with the consultation, ‘CAA and the Environment’, the regulator sets out a number of goals for its work. As the UK seeks to form a coherent aviation policy, the UK government has recently introduced legislative plans to give the CAA a duty to promote better information for the public on environmental impact and performance and improve consumers’ ability to make informed choices.
“The Government are clearly aware of how important aviation could be to the UK’s economic recovery, but unless the sector faces its environmental impact head-on, it will not be allowed to grow,” said Andrew Haines, CAA Chief Executive, launching the consultation. “Whether that impact is local in terms of air quality or noise, or global like climate change, the CAA is determined to work with the sector to help it manage its environmental footprint and realise its potential growth.
“In recent weeks we have set out how important additional capacity is likely to be for air passengers in the coming decades, but that capacity has to be sustainable. Today’s document sets out how we will work with the aviation industry to help turn the idea of sustainable capacity expansion into reality, for the benefit of the consumer.”
The CAA has set out four clear goals for its work, namely to contribute to a cleaner and quieter aviation industry, improve airspace design through new operational measures, influence the environment debate and enhance consumer understanding of the environmental impact of flying.
The regulator already has a number environmental impact roles covering, for example, changes to airspace design, measuring noise around airports, advising the Government and also the Environment Agency on emissions trading, and improving efficiency incentives through economic regulation to benefit the environment where possible.
An example of the latter is the agreement it reached last November with the UK’s air navigation service provider NATS on annual efficiency targets that aim to reduce airline fuel costs by £120 million ($190m) and save 600,000 tonnes of CO2 over the next three years (see article).
The consultation runs until 12 April 2012 and the CAA plans to hold a workshop in March to discuss related issues with interested stakeholders.
Business interests and environmentalists are currently locked in a heated debate as the UK Government grapples with the problem of airport capacity in the south-east of England. Business says the UK is losing its economic competitiveness due to lack of air links, particularly with the emerging BRIC nations, compared to European hubs such as Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. On the other hand, environmental groups warn that the UK will not be able to meet its binding climate targets if significant expansion goes ahead.
Although the three main political parties agree that there should be no new runway at Heathrow to boost capacity, none have yet come up with an alternative strategy for dealing with this seemingly intractable problem. There is though a growing momentum for a new London airport alongside the Thames estuary to the east of the capital, although it has achieved the feat of uniting opposition from both airlines and environmentalists.
Whereas aviation CO2 accounts for around 2% of global CO2 emissions, UK aviation emissions make up around 6% of UK emissions but this proportion has been predicted to rise up to 25%, even if aviation emissions returned to 2005 levels by 2050 – as targeted by the UK aviation industry – and UK carbon budgets are met.