Every major commercial UK airport has plans to expand, with many hoping to double passenger numbers by 2030, research by Air Quality News can reveal.
In spite of the fact that the UK has the third-highest CO2-emitting aviation sector in the world, after China and the United States, our taste for air travel shows no signs of slowing down. According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), there have only been five years since 1950 where total passenger numbers travelling through UK airports didn’t increase – and figures are projected to escalate throughout the 2020s.
But with the IPPC saying the UK needs to limit growth in aviation to no more than 25% above current levels by 2050 as part of efforts to reduce the UK’s emissions to net-zero, campaigners including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth believe something has to give.
We put UK Civil Aviation Authority passenger figures for 2018 against individual airport masterplans, many of which are available online and include projections for passengers into 2030 and beyond. The majority are planning for growth well above the 25% recommended by the IPCC. Southend, for example, wants to build a new terminal and runway and go from 1.4m to 10m by 2030, and Manchester’s £1bn plans are expected to see an extra 10 million passengers pass through its gates by the end of the decade.
The government in its draft 2050 Aviation Strategy says it supports the growth of aviation, provided that growth takes place in a sustainable way, with actions to mitigate the environmental impacts.
The air quality impacts of these could be profound. According to the 2019 European Aviation Environmental Report, aircraft emits particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these transform in the atmosphere that in turn produce other pollutants such as secondary particulate matter and ground-level ozone.
Heathrow’s third runway plans are the most high profile expansion and have seen the airport involved in a bitter court battle with campaigners and local politicians, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
It could also have a knock-on effect on smaller, regional airports, including Aberdeen and Newquay who are hinging their own expansion ambitions on Heathrow’s third runway opening up more domestic routes.
Many expansions, such Exeter and Bournemouth, avoid politically delicate expansions like new terminals and runways but instead plan to build large-scale business parks and warehouses close to the airport to help drive capacity growth, which could see increased road travel.
But campaigners say that the government must now oppose the expansion of airports around the country to prevent a ‘climate catastrophe’. Friends of the Earth clean air campaigner Jenny Bates told Air Quality News: ‘The massive increase in air passengers and widespread airport expansion that these numbers show flies directly in the face of everything we know needs to be done to limit catastrophic climate change. We need to reduce flying, not encourage it.’
2018 passenger numbers: 80 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 110 million
The most high profile, and controversial, airport expansion plans revolve around Heathrow’s third runway.
In December the airport said they now expect to complete the runway between 2028 and 2029 after the Civil Aviation Authority refused their request to lift spending from £650m to £2.4bn before it receives planning permission.
The third runway has become a long-running hot potato for politicians, and last year the High Court rejected an appeal from objectors including the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, five local authorities, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Since becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has remained tight-lipped on whether he personally backs the project.
Caroline Russell, chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee, said: ‘Although the government’s policy on Heathrow has survived this court hearing, it is still not the right course for London or the environment.
‘The government’s own figures show that the extra traffic caused by the expansion will worsen air pollution widely across London, shortening Londoners’ lives. At the same time, 200,000 more people will be affected by noise from an expanded Heathrow.
2018 passenger numbers: 12.4 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 18 million
Birmingham Airport is pushing ahead with expansion plans after a three-month public consultation suggested that people in the Midlands want more flights to the United States and Asia.
It plans to invest £500m to increase capacity and says the expansion will generate more than £2bn in regional economic benefit.
The airport is also expected to be a beneficiary of HS2. A rail link will be built next to the airport to cut journeys to central London from the current 70 minutes to 38.
2018 passenger numbers: 28.2 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 38 million
Manchester Airport’s £1bn expansion is well underway and has been hailed as the biggest single construction project Greater Manchester has ever seen.
The upgraded Terminal 2 will be finished in 2022, 150% bigger than the original. Low-cost carriers like Easy Jet and Jet2 are already benefitting, with the latter boasting of 3.5 million seats available on its flights from the airport this summer.
Extinction Rebellion is, unsurprisingly, against the expansion. They said last year: ‘At a time when we need to be having serious conversations about how we are going to seriously reduce air travel, any talk of expansion is utterly at odds with physical reality, and what science tells us must be done to avoid a planet-wide catastrophe!’
2018 passenger numbers: 4 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 7.1 million
Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) wants to demolish their current 1960s terminal and replace it with a modern, £150m facility.
The terminal currently deals with about four million passengers annually but the airport hopes to increase numbers to seven million over 10 years.
LBA said the proposal would support the region’s economic growth, but it’s proved politically unpopular, with Leeds MP Alex Sobel coming out against the plans. He said: ‘Whilst it is true that the airport is an important employer in our region, we must ask ourselves whether continued expansion of UK airports is sustainable given the climate crisis and the challenge we face with our air quality.’
LBA will submit plans for the expansion this Spring.
2018 passenger numbers: 8.7 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 12.5 million
North Somerset Council rejected plans to expand Bristol Airport earlier this month (February 11) citing concerns over the environmental damage that it could cause.
The plans would have seen 3,000 new car parking spaces on green belt land and a transport hub built in order to expand passenger capacity.
Don Davies, the leader of the council, said: ‘What the committee has considered is that the detrimental effect of the expansion of the airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to airport expansion.
Bristol Airport chief executive Dave Lees said they could appeal against the decision.
2018 passenger numbers: 1.2 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 3.5 million
In January, the airport unveiled £10m plans to expand the South Yorkshire transport hub and ‘unlock’ over 33,000 jobs.
2018 passenger numbers: 46.1 million
Projected passenger numbers 2032: 70 million
Gatwick says there is insufficient airport capacity to meet the ‘unconstrained demand’ for UK air travel. However, like other London airports, they’ve faced fierce resistance to expansion plans. Last year, they abandoned plans to build an additional runway but instead will bring the airport’s emergency runway into use.
However, they still want to safeguard land in case their new runway plans get resurrected in the future.
2018 passenger numbers: 6.2 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 10 million
2018 passenger numbers: 3 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 4.5 million
In 2018, the owners of Aberdeen Airport urged every Scottish MP to vote in favour of plans to expand Heathrow, warning them that it if it doesn’t go ahead it could cost Aberdeen thousands of flights and hit the local economy.
Durham Tees Valley
2018 passenger numbers: 142,000
2030 projected passenger numbers: 1.5 million
Durham Tees Valley Airport is the smallest commercial airport in mainland UK, but last year it was bought by the Tees Valley Combined Authority who hope to put the business back into profit and increase passenger numbers by 10-fold.
They want to attract low-cost carriers away from the nearby Leeds Bradford and Newcastle airports.
2018 passenger numbers: 1.9 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 4.5 million
Southampton Airport is planning a 164-metre extension of its runway, which it says will significantly increase route choices for business and leisure passengers and allow aircraft to travel further.
However, the plan has faced fierce public opposition, including from Southampton City Council who say it will exacerbate the climate crisis.
According to the BBC’s Local Democracy Service, council leader Christopher Hammond said the plans would lead to ‘gridlocked infrastructure’ and see carbon emissions rise, on average, by 350,000 tonnes a year.
2018 passenger numbers: 674,000
2030 projected passenger numbers: 3-4 million
Bournemouth Airport wants to build a ‘world-class’ business park adjacent to the airport, which could see over a million square feet of commercial floor space on around 75 acres of land.
Aviation Business Park, which covers 200 acres, is already home to more than 200 businesses and is one of the largest employment sites in Dorset.
Liverpool John Lennon
2018 passenger numbers: 5 million
2030 projected passenger numbers: 7.8 million
The Airport’s ‘Strategic Vision to 2030’ sets out how it wants to spend £100m over the next decade expanding its terminal building, adding car parking and potentially extending its runway.
2018 passenger numbers: 1.6 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030 – 2.5 million
Cardiff Airport’s 2040 Masterplan includes plans to build a new terminal, hotel and car park.
The Welsh government is determined to see airport increase passenger numbers and in October 2019 gave its owners a £21.2m loan because it says the airport is currently ‘hampered by the disproportionate costs that smaller airports face’.
Welsh transport minister Ken Skate said: ‘Regulatory burdens and security measures are not shared proportionately and we continue to press the UK government to develop a more competitive environment for smaller, ambitious airports wanting to grow and expand.’
2018 passenger numbers: 14.3 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 20 million
Edinburgh Airport’s £75m terminal expansion opened last year and is the start of a larger program of investment in key terminal and airfield facilities over the next five years, with almost £300m due to be spent on a new baggage system, more new stands, improved check-in facilities and a new access road.
2018 passenger numbers: 930,000
Projected passenger numbers 2030: N/A
Like fellow south coast airport, Bournemouth, Exeter sees a business park as key to its growth and is planning a new £3m ‘Airpark’ to be built next to the Flybe Hangar.
Last year, the local council approved plans to widen a road to the proposed business park and they hope it will facilitate further expansion of the airport in the coming years.
2018 passenger numbers: 9.7 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 13.35 million
The Glasgow Airport Investment Area has been created which is hoped will become a ‘powerhouse of economic growth’ for Renfrewshire and the Glasgow City Region.
The £39.1m project will deliver the realignment of Abbotsinch Road, a new bridge across the White Cart and new cycle routes; all aimed at improving connections between the Westway, Inchinnan and Airport Business Parks and as an enabler for the delivery of an internationally recognised district for innovation, research and manufacturing centred around the airport.
2018 passenger numbers: 903,000
Projected passenger numbers 2030: – N/A
Key to the growth of Inverness Airport is a new railway station, which has been mooted for the past 15 years.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart wrote to the Scottish Government, saying ‘people’s patience is being tried’ and has asked for a clear timetable for exactly when work can be expected to be done.
2018 passenger numbers: 5.3 million
Projected passenger numbers 2035: 9.4 million
The airport recently published its 2035 Masterplan, which safeguards 700m of land for a potential extension to its runway. They also want to build an extra 7,400 additional car parking spaces to cope with future demand.
2018 passenger numbers: 456,000
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 600,000
Newquay airport new passenger terminal site, but its ambitions go higher than 36,000 ft. In 2019 the airport received funding of up to £20mfrom Cornwall Council and the UK Space Agency to develop the site into a hub for space exploration.
The funds would go to Spaceport Cornwall, and American launch operator Virgin Orbit, to enable them to develop their current facilities and operations and allow them to be more involved in space exploration.
2018 passenger numbers: 1.4 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 10 million
Southend Airport owners Stobart Group has huge expansion ambitions and wants to build a new terminal and upgrade its runway. The Southend Echo reports that they’ve also recently signed a major deal with Amazon to fly in goods from around the world.
2018 passenger numbers: 4.7 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 10 million
East Midlands is a major cargo hub and around one million individual packages and letters are handled each night at the airport. To foster further growth, UPS is building a new £114m facility at the site will double the size of their current operation.
2018 passenger numbers: 28 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 44 million
To meet the ‘ongoing demand for air travel’, Stanstead is investing £600m to boost capacity and improve facilities.
However, plans for new £150m arrivals terminal were put on hold in 2019.
Earlier this month, the High Court rejected the Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) appeal against the decision to allow Uttlesford District Council (UDC) to review the airport’s expansion.
2018 passenger numbers: 16.6 million
Projected passenger numbers 2039: 32 million
Owners of the UK’s fifth-largest airport want to build a second terminal and increase passenger numbers to 32 million a year by 2039.
Andrew Lambourne, of Luton and District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, said the expansion was ‘unethical’ with the owners ‘driven to maximise capacity for Luton regardless of the environmental impact.’
Last month protesters from Extinction Rebellion marched from the airport into the town to protest against the expansion.
Luton Aiport says any expansion will consider the environmental impact as an ‘absolute priority’.
2018 passenger numbers: 4.9 million
Projected passenger numbers 2030: 10 million
There are £480m plans to expand London’s most central airport, which will see eight new aircraft stands built, and extensions to its terminal that will see it quadruple in size.
Controversially, the airport has proposed to loosen flight restrictions that would allow flights to run through the night on weekends.
Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reveal that noise pollution from the airport affects 74,000 people – an amount exceeded only by Heathrow and Manchester airports.