Gatwick and Heathrow battle it out over future compliance with UK and EU air quality targets
Modelled NO2 concentrations at and around Heathrow in 2002
Fri 31 Oct 2014 – In the contest between London’s two biggest airports as to which should be allowed to build a new runway, Gatwick is now taking the fight to Heathrow over the air quality records of the two airports. Gatwick claims that unlike its rival, it has never breached EU and UK annual air quality limits, and commits to maintaining this status if it succeeds with its extra runway. The airport says Heathrow could only meet air quality standards with a new runway if there was no more airport-related road traffic than there is today, which would require the introduction of a pollution-limiting congestion charge that could run as high as £40 ($64) per trip to the airport. Heathrow, on the other hand, says it has various strategies in place that will allow compliance with air quality limits in the event of a new third runway.
Gatwick says it can operate well within the UK and EU air quality guidelines as it is located in a largely rural, sparsely populated area, and also has among the cleanest aircraft fleets in Europe serving the airport. It claims never to have exceeded the UK’s annual nitrogen (NO2) target since an independent air quality management area was established locally in 2002.
“Gatwick has an industry leading environmental record and unlike Heathrow, has met air quality standards for over a decade,” said Tom Denton, Head of Corporate Responsibility for Gatwick. “We would still operate within these standards with a second runway and see no need to introduce a congestion charge on local roads around the airport.”
Heathrow responds that in 2013, only one of the nine monitoring stations closest to Heathrow – within 2km – exceeded the NO2 limit value. This particular site is located adjacent to the congested M4 motorway, where it says emissions from airport operations contribute less than 20% of total oxides of nitrogen (NOx) concentrations.
“In the last decade we have achieved significant reductions in emissions – even though the numbers of people and aircraft using Heathrow have increased,” said a Heathrow spokesperson. “This is due to a number of unique initiatives to reduce local air pollution at Heathrow, including through promoting public transport options by funding the UK’s largest free travel zone, the use of more sustainable vehicle options through our Clean Vehicles Programme, hosting the UK’s first publicly accessible hydrogen refuelling site and having one of Europe’s largest electric airside vehicle fleets.”
In technical submissions to the Airports Commission, which is tasked with identifying if and where a new runway is required, Heathrow said it has surface access and mitigation strategies in place that would ensure that by 2030, with an extra runway in operation, there would be no infringements of annual average NO2 limits at locations outside the airport perimeter where members of the public may be exposed.
“Even in 2040, with annual air transport movements increased to 740,000 and passenger throughput at an estimated 130 million, the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide will be complied with. Legal limits for PM10 and PM2.5 will also be met,” Heathrow pledges.
In May, Heathrow told the Airports Commission that it would consider introducing a congestion charge for people travelling to the airport “once improvements in public transport have been delivered.” Without estimating what that charge might be, it said such a scheme would help ensure that there would be no more airport-related vehicles on the road than present, even with a third runway. It has made a commitment to increase the proportion of passengers using public transport from 40% today to more than 50% by 2030.
The Heathrow spokesperson added a third runway would be consistent with findings by the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change that a 60% growth in UK air passengers was compatible with meeting legally binding national carbon targets.
Gatwick has just published its annual ‘Decade of Change’ report that tracks progress on environmental targets including climate change emissions, water use and public transport take-up. It shows the airport, which aims to be carbon-neutral by 2040, has cut Scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions from 721,502 tonnes in 2010, when the ‘Decade of Change’ began, to 700,562 tonnes in 2013.
The has been achieved, it says, by reducing electricity and by being the first airport in the world to replace the airport’s runway and taxiway lights with LEDs, which has cut energy use on the airfield by 50%. Single engine taxiing had also resulted in reduced fuel burn and emissions.
“Our expansion plans strike the right balance between delivering the extra airport capacity the UK needs, while taking the right steps to protect the environment,” said Denton.
At London’s third busiest airport, Stansted Airport too has just published its annual sustainability report, which shows it managed to reduce its carbon emissions in 2013/14 from the previous year by 66% – from 29,199 tonnes to 9,940 tonnes. The airport was taken over by MAG – which also owns Manchester, East Midlands and Bournemouth airports – and this has resulted, says Stansted’s Director of CSR, Neil Robinson, in significant savings “achieved by moving the airport onto MAG’s group contract for purchasing low carbon electricity, which is generated using only biomass such as wood and straw rather than coal.”
The report says the biomass boiler installed at the airport in 2008 had experienced “technical difficulties”.
Stansted managed to divert 93% of its waste from landfill in 2013 compared to 75% in 2012, which was recognised by the award of gold accreditation in National Recycling Stars. The airport has a target to divert all waste from landfill by the end of 2015.
Meanwhile, Lydd Airport – which has added London Ashford to its name, despite being located near England’s south-east coast and a considerable distance from London – has been in the spotlight over its £25 million ($40m) development plans that include a new terminal building and a runway extension. The local Shepway District Council has commissioned environmental consultancy Ecus to provide it with ecological advice on the proposed plans.
Situated near the famous Romney Marshes, the airport is located within an internationally important site for nature and the environment, including the Dungeness Special Area of Conservation. The airport has undertaken studies to monitor, record and evaluate the effects of the development, and is to submit a protection, construction and mitigation plan for local wildlife habitats.
“Our remit is to provide an independent and impartial assessment of the airport’s proposals to enable the council to make an informed decision on the airport’s extensive mitigation proposals for safeguarding the national and internationally important ecology of the site,” said Chris John, Technical Director for ecology at Ecus.
“Ecus has worked successfully on many similar projects across the UK and we are aware that this is a key local issue, so it is important that all of the information submitted is subject to a detailed technical review and that appropriate solutions are found to enable the sustainable development of the airport.”