New UK aviation strategy must address the sector's environmental impact, pledges government
Mon 24 July 2017 – The UK government has opened an eighteen-month consultation into the long-term future of aviation in the UK and has pledged that any new strategy must address the impact of the sector on local communities and the environment. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said a vision was required that looked beyond a new runway at Heathrow, and a thriving sector would be central to the UK’s future prosperity in a post-Brexit world. In the wide-ranging consultation into the technological, security, environmental and passenger service challenges ahead, the government is also looking for views on possible new forms of compensation for noise or designing targets for noise reduction. Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport has announced 700 local homes most affected by aircraft noise will be offered bespoke noise insulation free of charge.
“Our vision puts the passenger at the heart of what we do, but also recognises the need to address the impacts of aviation on communities and the environment,” said Grayling at the launch last week of the consultation, which will be followed by the publication of the final aviation strategy at the end of 2018.
It will consider six themes over the period, including passenger and customer services; safety and security; global connectivity; competitive markets; innovation, technology and skills; and supporting growth while tackling environmental impacts. The latter, says the government, will look at how to achieve the right balance between more flights and ensuring action is taken to tackle carbon emissions, noise and air quality.
In his foreword to the consultation document, Grayling said the UK had worked with ICAO “to secure an agreement across 190 countries to tackle aviation’s CO2 emissions.”
He added: “Then last year we selected a new Northwest runway at Heathrow as our preferred scheme for delivering much-needed new runway capacity in the South East, and have been consulting on proposals to modernise the way we manage our airspace. This has all been done while listening closely to what people have said and we will continue to do so.”
However, UK campaign group the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) responded that choosing to go ahead with approving Heathrow expansion before the strategy had been developed was “putting the cart before the horse”.
Said AEF Director Tim Johnson: “Expansion presents huge environmental challenges, and would mean lower passenger growth at regional airports as more demand gets concentrated in the South East. Why is the government only just starting to consider a national strategy for the UK’s airports, and for tackling the sector’s impact on climate change and the local environment?”
AEF has launched a campaign that calls on MPs to reject any vote on airport expansion – expected next year – until the government had published plans to tackle environmental challenges.
“How can MPs take a view on whether or not to support the government’s plan for a new runway before there’s any plan in place to ensure that it won’t compromise our ability to get to grips with London’s air quality problem, or to deliver on legal climate change targets?” questioned Johnson.
Also responding to consultation launch, Tim Alderslade, CEO of the Airlines UK trade association, said: “The pressing issues of delivering an expanded Heathrow whilst keeping the airport honest on cost and affordability, working with industry and community groups on modernising UK airspace, and protecting existing EU and international market access and our continued membership of the aviation safety agency EASA during the upcoming Brexit negotiations, must remain front and centre in the government’s thinking.”
He also called for an outcome that resulted in a substantial reduction or abolition of Air Passenger Duty (APD), “the highest tax on air travel in the world,” he said.
Karen Dee, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, agreed the new strategy was an opportunity to address APD, which she claimed was a barrier to better connectivity. The UK trade body also said enabling aviation to become more sustainable to meet ever-increasing demand for air travel should be a priority for the government.
“While industry is moving ahead to reduce the environmental impact of aviation in areas within its control, there are areas where government support is needed, such as on sustainable aviation fuels and support for low-carbon specialist vehicles on airports,” it commented.
Welcoming the initial call for evidence in the consultation process, UK cross-industry group Sustainable Aviation said it fully understood growth in the sector needed to be delivered with the minimum impact of aircraft disturbance and emissions.
“Delivering environmentally sustainable aviation growth in the UK, with the significant economic benefits that it will bring, is a challenge that our industry is ready to meet,” said Ian Jopson, Chair of Sustainable Aviation. “The government’s vision for our aviation industry brings welcome support for the aviation industry about our future growth.
“Aviation has already made good progress in decoupling growth of aviation from increases in CO2 emissions, noise and the impact on air quality. In the last 10 years, 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions were saved from UK airline flights – not least thanks to a record investment in 470 new, cleaner and quieter aircraft by UK airlines since 2005.”
Meanwhile, following a pilot scheme in 2014 in which 474 homes around Heathrow were fitted with soundproofing insulation, the airport has re-opened the Quieter Homes Scheme and invited a further 708 residents to join. The selection has been based on an assessment by an independent noise appraisal expert, said Heathrow. As well as 100% of the costs, residents will be offered a wider range of products with a choice of suppliers, although the work could take up to four years to complete.