Either confront the environmental challenge or risk losing any new runway capacity, UK regulator warns sector
Tue 10 Feb 2015 – The UK’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), has said if the industry and decision-makers are not more ambitious in tackling the sector’s environmental challenges, they will face the prospect that essential additional runway capacity may never be built. The threat comes as Heathrow promises a more generous noise insulation package that would be eligible for around 160,000 homes in the airport’s vicinity if it was given the go-ahead to build a third runway. Heathrow said the offer goes above and beyond UK requirements and is comparable to those offered by other European hub airports. A CAA report says Heathrow currently spends far less than its continental rivals on noise mitigation and compensation on a per passenger handled basis. Tasked with delivering a decision on new runway capacity in the south-east of England, the Airports Commission closed its final public consultation last week.
In its response to the consultation the CAA said local communities must not be expected to simply suffer the consequences of airport expansion, and industry, government and those involved with delivering a potential new runway should do more to minimise disturbance.
“It cannot be right that we expect to be able to build more runway capacity without the industry making big improvements to how it minimises its impact on its neighbours,” commented Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the CAA. “The solution is partly operational – such as using the quietest aircraft available in the most efficient way – but industry improving the way it works with local communities is also crucial.
“This is now key to this debate, as communities cannot be expected to put up with airport expansion without much better engagement and compensation, and more of a say in a development that will have a major impact on their local area.”
As the independent regulator, the CAA has not endorsed any of the three schemes shortlisted by the Commission – a new runway and an extended dual-use runway at Heathrow, and a second runway at Gatwick Airport – but believes the building of any of them is necessary.
However, said Haines, unless the local community issue was comprehensively tackled, “it’s hard to see how the additional runway capacity that will benefit consumers and industry for generations to come will ever be built.”
In a report published last year, ‘Managing Aviation Noise’, the CAA estimated (page 53) Heathrow spent €0.11 ($0.12) per passenger it handled on noise mitigation measures during the period 2007-2011. By contrast, Paris CDG spent €0.19 (1995-2008), Madrid Barajas €0.29 (2000-2013), Frankfurt €0.51 (2001-ongoing) and Amsterdam Schiphol €0.58 (1984-2005).
In its submission to the Commission, the CAA says there must be a significant increase by major UK airports on spending on noise mitigation and compensation for local communities, reversing the current situation where spending is lower than that in Europe and the United States.
Heeding the warning, although Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye says it is as a result of local consultations with residents, the airport has announced a new enhanced scheme if the government approves its proposal for a third runway. This, it says, expands on previous proposals and is comparable to those offered by other European hub airports.
The scheme would cover a zone based on the EU-preferred 55 decibel noise contour measurement. In total, Heathrow estimates that over £700 million ($1.06bn) could be spent on the insulation package, an increase of over £450 million ($685m) from that it proposed to the Commission last year, and an increase of over £610 million ($928m) from its previous proposals for a third runway.
It is based on two newly designated insulation zones, and residents would be eligible regardless of whether they experience noise under existing flight paths or will be newly affected by noise from a new runway. Homes in the zone closest to the airport with higher levels of noise stand to have the full costs of their insulation covered by the scheme. In addition, up to £3,000 ($4,500) in noise insulation would be offered to homes further away from the airport. The insulation package could include acoustic double-glazing in windows, ceiling overboarding in bedrooms and loft insulation and ventilation.
The airport says the improved offer is designed to reflect better the actual noise levels experienced by local people, that it should treat people equally, whether they are already exposed to noise or newly exposed to noise, and an acceptance that £250 million ($380m) compensation package previously earmarked was insufficient.
“Now we want to work with local communities to ensure that the opportunities from expansion – up to 40,000 new skilled jobs at Heathrow, 10,000 apprenticeships, tackling youth employment – benefit those who are most affected by expansion,” said Holland-Kaye.
Responding to the new offer, John Stewart, who as Chair of HACAN has fought a long campaign against Heathrow expansion, commented: “There is no doubt that this is much more generous than anything we have seen before and it brings Heathrow into line with other major European airports. But it does show how eager the airport is to get a new runway. It also suggests that residents have been short-changed in the past.”
Gatwick Airport, Heathrow’s rival for the one new runway proposed by the Airports Commission, maintains that just 18,000 new people would be affected if it was to be given the go-ahead for a second runway, compared to 320,000 people if Heathrow was to be expanded.
Said Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate: “Heathrow should follow Gatwick’s lead and offer to pay the council tax of people most affected if it’s serious about compensating people for noise. Heathrow can’t afford to do that of course as it already impacts more people than all the major European airports combined.”
However, itself facing strong opposition from campaign groups as well as local politicians and councils to expansion, Gatwick is concerned that noise analysis by the Commission is making it difficult for people to understand noise impacts and claims it includes distortions which prevent fair comparison between the three shortlisted schemes. The airport also highlights concerns over air quality limits at Heathrow.
“We all want the UK to prosper, but we should not pursue economic benefits at any cost to the environment – public consultation has clearly highlighted what difficult but pivotal issues noise and the environment will be in this debate,” said Wingate. “At this critical juncture, the Airport Commission’s decision should reflect the sort of country we want Britain to be in the 21st Century.”
A survey carried out by the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has found citizens in England and Wales have come to be much less tolerant of noise in general over the past decade. Noise from neighbours and road traffic continue to be the biggest problem but aircraft noise has become the fastest growing source of irritation. In the year 2000, 20% of respondents reported being bothered, annoyed or disturbed to some extent by noise from aircraft, airports and airfields, which had risen to 31% by 2012.
“The results are revealing,” commented HACAN’s Stewart. “This dramatic increase in the numbers disturbed by aircraft took place during a decade when planes were becoming a little quieter. It can only be accounted for by the rise in the number of aircraft using UK airports.”
As far as the UK NGO Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) is concerned, none of the proposals would reduce noise to levels safe for human health and called on the Commission to make clear the population that would be newly exposed to noise by each scheme and provide reasoning for the assumptions used of future fleet mix and flight paths.
The AEF also takes issue with the “broadly neutral” finding made by the Commission on local quality of life impacts from airport expansion and cites an analysis by PwC that found aircraft noise is negatively associated with all subjective wellbeing measures. Adding in worsening air quality concerns and doubts that aviation carbon targets could be met by the projected rise in air traffic, the AEF said “gaping holes” in the Commission’s analysis of the impacts concealed a potential “environmental disaster”.
The Airport Commission’s consultation on its assessment of the three proposed runway schemes and additional capacity in the south-east of England closed last week. The body headed by Sir Howard Davies will now sift through over 50,000 responses from individuals and organisations before publishing its report this summer after the country’s general election and submitting its recommendations to the incoming government. Last week, the main opposition party pledged a quick response but none of the mainstream parties has indicated that it would be bound by the Commission’s decision.