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UK airport air quality challenges can be overcome

Independent Transport Commission report argues environmental fears should not be a ‘show-stopper’ for airport expansion

Environmental concerns over air pollution, carbon emissions and noise from aviation operations should not be a “show stopper” for expanding either Heathrow or Gatwick airports, an Independent Transport Commission report argued today (March 7).

Heathrow airport is currently in the running for expansion alongside Gatwick (photo: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com)

Heathrow airport is currently in the running for expansion alongside Gatwick (photo: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com)

The government announced in December that it would be conducting further work on possible environmental impacts of expanding either Gatwick or Heathrow, but the ICT said that these challenges – including those on air quality – can be overcome.

It concludes: “The issue clearly needs to be tackled irrespective of airport expansion, and the report suggests tools exist to enable this to happen.”

The report is based on research carried out by sustainability experts Peter Hind and RDC Aviation Ltd that examined a ‘wide range of sources’ relating to the nitrogen dioxide (NOx), noise and CO2 arising from UK aviation operations.

The report’s findings indicate that technological improvements will mitigate any future increases in noise, CO2 and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions arising from airport expansion, and that ‘rapid’ improvements in these areas over the past 30 years are likely to continue.

According to ICT, NOx and particulate matter emissions around airports are principally cause by surface transport – an issue which transcends the aviation industry and requires national government policies to encourage a modal shift from car to rail to reduce emissions.

Chair of ICT’s aviation group, Dr Stephen Hickey, said the report shows that air quality challenges of airport expansion “are not insurmountable”, and that capacity expansion is a “critical enabler for increase employment, trade, investment and productivity”.

“Whether the government pursues the proposal to expand Gatwick or Heathrow, the ITC research demonstrates that sustainability concerns should not stop the UK realising the great additional benefits that increased connectivity can provide” – Dr Stephen Hickey, ICT

Dr Hickey said: “Whether the government pursues the proposal to expand Gatwick or Heathrow, the ITC research demonstrates that sustainability concerns should not stop the UK realising the great additional benefits that increased connectivity can provide.

“The findings suggest that noise and local air quality impacts can be managed downwards given the right mix of operational, policy and technological development, while incremental improvements in emission output are being delivered on an annual basis.”

Heathrow

Heathrow Airport welcomed the report’s findings, and agreed that as the main contributor to emissions around airports came from surface transport, air quality was therefore a “national problem which needs government action”.

This, Heathrow argues, supports monitoring data at two sites around the airport which show airport-related emissions contribute less than 16% of the total emissions breaches beside major road junctions.

Matt Gorman, Heathrow director of sustainability, said: “Heathrow has called for local and national partners to work together on a plan to reduce the impact of non-airport related vehicles, which are the major source of local air pollution. The huge benefits of additional capacity at our airport need not come at the expense of the environment – Heathrow expansion can deliver for both.”

Legal action

However, the UK government has been threatened with legal action by councillors from four London boroughs should it opt to build a third runway at Heathrow.

“The simple fact is that Heathrow expansion would be too noisy, polluting and damaging to local communities. It’s time for ministers to recognise the huge weight of evidence that shows that the third runway plan is impossible” – David Burbage, Windsor and Maidenhead council leader

Harrison Grant Solicitors – acting on behalf of Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead councils – has written to the Prime Minister to highlight “insurmountable environmental problems” which would make a decision to expand Heathrow “irrational or otherwise unlawful”.

It warns David Cameron that the recommendations of the Airports Commission, which favoured building another Heathrow runway “were based on a flawed assessment of the impacts on air quality and noise”.

Commenting on the solicitors’ letter, councillor David Burbage, leader of Windsor and Maidenhead council, said: “The Commission’s work on air pollution and noise has been discredited and cannot be used to form a robust national aviation policy. The simple fact is that Heathrow expansion would be too noisy, polluting and damaging to local communities. It’s time for ministers to recognise the huge weight of evidence that shows that the third runway plan is impossible.”

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Roland Gilmore
Roland Gilmore
5 years ago

Another speculative report that adds nothing of importance. What exactly is “independent” about an aviation company co-authoring this report? Who commissioned it and what precisely was the brief? What empirical data was used, how was that data gathered, where was it gathered and what criteria were applied to the analysis?
Heathrow say that air pollution around Heathrow is a “national problem”. No it isn’t, it’s a local problem created by Heathrow Airport. The tired old claim that future technological change will somehow make Heathrow compliant is pure speculation and should therefore be dismissed.