Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report


The objective for airports

18. In the South-East airports consultation, the DfT said that: "The Government believes that, in principle, its policy for airports in the South East should aim both to maximise the significant social and economic benefits that growth in aviation would bring whilst trying to minimise the environmental impacts."[18] A number of organisations commented on the inadequacy of this as an objective.[19] The wording appears to suggest that economic and social objectives are of higher priority than environmental objectives. Moreover, the reference to "trying" to minimise environmental impacts is unfortunate, as also is the implication that mitigation is more important than avoidance.

19. In emphasising economic and social objectives for airports, the DfT is placing a lower priority on environmental objectives and is focussed more on mitigating the environmental impacts rather than avoiding them where possible.

Forecast growth and prices

20. The average growth in air passengers over the last 30 years has been nearly 6%.[20] In the South-East, air traffic today is a little over five times the level of 30 years ago. The DfT forecast of an unconstrained increase in demand to 501 mppa by 2030 is equivalent to an annual increase of 4% every year.[21]

21. If a 4% increase were maintained beyond 2030, passenger numbers would by then be increasing by 20 million each year. As the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) has pointed out, in the space of only three years this would amount to over 60 mppa—virtually the entire capacity of Heathrow in 2000.[22] Such a scenario is obviously unsustainable, and we have indicated above that the scope for a technological 'fix' is very limited. The implied growth also raises fundamental question marks about behaviour in terms of the number of foreign holidays which we can take—a point we raised with the Secretary of State for Transport.[23]

22. The other closely related assumption contained in the DfT consultation is that fares will fall by 2% a year. The Department qualifies this by stating that the decrease might only be 1% if account is taken of environmental costs. But it then goes on to suggest that fares may in fact fall more than this due to competition between low-cost carriers, and that a rate of 1.5% might be more realistic even if a 100% aviation fuel tax were in place to internalise CO2 costs.[24] An annual reduction of 1.5% would result by 2030 in a fall of 36% in ticket prices; while a 2% reduction would result in a fall of 45%.

23. The DfT's consultation is therefore based on an assumption that the air fares will fall by up to 40% in the next three decades. Such a reduction in the price of flying is frighteningly reminiscent of roads—where we have seen a similar drop in the price of motoring but where we are now paying the penalty in terms of global warming, congestion, and a lack of investment in public transport.

24. We are concerned that the Department should have released a major consultation which assumes that passenger numbers will increase by 4% every year for thirty years and that fares will decrease by up to 40% over the same period without a far more extensive discussion of the underlying implications of such assumptions.

The need for demand management

25. In its November 2002 report, the RCEP noted the Government's view that a charge of £3 per passenger on short-haul flights and £20 on long-haul flights would reflect the environmental costs, but considered this inadequate to address the huge scale of the environmental challenge. It concluded that an emissions charge would need to be "substantial", and that a tax of £35 for single flights, as suggested by the Institute of Public Policy Research, would "go some way towards removing the discrepancy of treatment between aviation and motor fuel".[25] This received wide coverage in the media.

26. The Secretary of State for Transport expressed some scepticism about the RCEP report in both the House and in an interview with the Times. We commented on his apparently dismissive attitude earlier this year.[26] In the light of the environmental impacts of a major growth in aviation and the assumptions on which this is based, we took the opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Transport directly about the need for demand management.[27]

27. In the case of roads, the Government does seem finally to have accepted the need for some form of congestion charging or road pricing framework. Yet the Secretary of State for Transport entirely refused to accept that, in the case of aviation, congestion may need to be dealt with in a similar way. We were astonished that he denied there was any parallel in this respect between road transport and aviation. He re-iterated his opposition to "pricing people off planes" and the frequency with which he used this phrase reinforced our perception that the Department for Transport is little interested in sustainability.

28. In our view the Government should aim to decouple growth in air travel from economic growthas it has been attempting to do for roads. To achieve this, it must be willing to use a range of fiscal and other policy instruments to manage behaviour. This might go well beyond the need to incorporate cost externalitiesas indeed the Government has accepted in the case of waste.[28]

18   DfT South-East consultation, paragraph 2.4. Back

19   Ev118, 136,140. Back

20   DfT South-East consultation, paragraph 5.13. Back

21   The exact figure is 3.6%. The DfT actually assumes a growth of 4.25% per annum until 2020, and then uses a slightly lower growth rate in extrapolating the 2020 forecasts to 2030. See DfT South-East consultation, paragraphs 5.18 and 5.20. Back

22   The Hidden Cost of Flying, Aviation Environment Federation, February 2003. Back

23   Ev87. Back

24   DfT South-East consultation, paragraphs 5.16 to 5.24. Back

25   The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight, Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, November 2002. Back

26   EAC, Fourth Report of Session 2002-03, Pre-Budget Report 2002, April 2003, paragraphs 35-40. Back

27   Ev82ff. Back

28   Ev9, Q63.  Back

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