Aviation Strategy - Transport Committee Contents

3  The impacts of growth

36.  Growth in aviation will have inevitable impacts on the global and local environment. In this chapter we consider the main environmental impacts raised with us.

Global impacts

37.  The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which provides advice to the UK Government and Parliament, set out in its 2009 report the environmental implications of growth in aviation, with particular reference to airport expansion as set out in the 2003 White Paper. The CCC concluded that:

an increase in ATMs [Air Traffic Movements] of around 55% relative to 2005 levels would be compatible with the target of ensuring that 2050 CO2 emissions did not exceed the 2005 level of 37.5 MtCO2. Given increasing load factors over time, an increase in passengers of around 60% on 2005 levels by 2050 would be possible, taking total annual passenger numbers from 230 million to around 370 million.[64]

The CCC added that even though the total current theoretical capacity at all airports in the UK was already in excess both of current ATMs and of maximum ATMs compatible with the 2050 target, demand could not easily be switched between different geographical locations.[65] The Environment Agency told us that growth within the environmental limits set by the CCC "would require quite considerable reductions in emissions from individual aircraft and individual flights, but the [CCC] clearly thinks that that is possible".[66]

38.  Other witnesses seemed less convinced and suggested that a reduction in emissions might best be achieved by constraining aviation growth. However, constraining capacity at UK airports might simply lead to fewer direct routes and therefore more UK passengers having to take longer indirect routes, which could generate even more emissions. Willie Walsh told us that "flying from Heathrow direct to Seoul is about 37% shorter than if you fly Heathrow-Dubai-Seoul" and that "we are actually pushing people into less environmentally sustainable-friendly ways of travelling because we are forcing them to transfer over other hub airports outside the UK".[67] In addition to the problem of greater distances, there is also the issue of the extra emissions generated by having to take-off and land twice. We questioned witnesses about whether pushing passengers to transfer at foreign hubs was tantamount to exporting our emissions problem to another country. John Stewart, from HACAN (the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise), responded that "as far as emissions are concerned, that can't really be denied".[68] WWF-UK were reluctant to tell us how great a concern these additional emissions would be and Anthony Rae, from Friends of Earth, stated that he would want to see analysis on how much greater the emissions would be.[69] Heathrow Airport subsequently wrote to us with two examples comparing the emissions generated by a direct flight from Heathrow with a flight connecting through a European hub airport, illustrating a 5-16% increase in CO2 emissions for the corresponding connecting flight.[70]

39.  In its final Aviation Policy Framework, the Government argues that tackling emissions from aviation is principally a global task.[71] We agree, particularly in the light of the evidence which we received that specific restrictions to growth in the UK could perversely lead to greater rather than fewer emissions as passengers have to make less efficient journeys to reach their destinations. We note that the Government intends to review the appropriateness of specific targets for UK aviation emissions in the light of progress with global initiatives, such as the future scope of the EU ETS and the outcome of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) negotiations towards a global deal on aviation emissions.[72]

40.  Aviation can and should be permitted to grow. Despite existing spare capacity, demand could not easily be switched between different geographical locations. We therefore consider that an increase in capacity will be necessary to accommodate sustainable aviation growth. We recommend that any future plans for increased aviation capacity take into account progress on global initiatives to deal with emissions.

41.  The aviation industry itself is conscious of the need to act to reduce emissions if it is to grow within the environmental limits set out by the CCC.[73] Sian Foster, from Virgin Atlantic Airways, told us that "there have been huge developments in terms of noise-efficient and carbon-efficient aircraft".[74] Jean Leston, from WWF-UK, and Matt Williams, from the RSPB, welcomed efforts to work on fuel efficiency improvements and technology improvements on aircraft, but remained concerned that emissions generated by aviation growth would outstrip the benefits gained through these measures.[75]

42.  In addition to technical solutions that might make aircraft more environmentally friendly, there are also potential environmental gains from changing the way in which air traffic is managed. For example, aircraft approaching Heathrow are often held in a stack, circling at progressively lower altitudes as they await a landing slot and this "stacking" generates unnecessary emissions. Willie Walsh told us that there were an estimated 270,000 tonnes of CO2 generated by aircraft stacking between June 2011 and July 2012.[76] He suggested that additional capacity, in the form of a third runway, at Heathrow might reduce stacking.[77] John Stewart and Matt Williams agreed that reducing stacking would lead to a reduction in emissions but argued that this reduction would be minimal in comparison to the emissions generated by the additional planes accommodated by a third runway at Heathrow.[78] We note that NATS,[79] the UK's leading provider of ATM services, was the first ATM provider to set targets for reducing CO2 emissions for aircraft under its control, and the first ATM provider in the world to devise a metric for measuring its environmental performance.[80] Stacking of aircraft, particularly over London, generates unnecessary emissions. We recommend that NATS carry out modelling work to identify the extent to which stacking might be reduced if an additional runway is built at Heathrow. This work should be reported to the Airports Commission, ahead of its final report.

Local impacts

43.  The local impacts of aviation growth vary depending on the region and the nature of the development. For example, the Environment Agency told us that around the Thames estuary, the potential site of a much talked about new hub airport, the most significant environmental issues are the risk of flooding and the protection of habitats.[81] However, no matter where an airport is located, local residents will be concerned about air quality and noise. While much of the evidence we received on local impacts relates to the UK's busiest airport, Heathrow, the concerns raised would also be valid around other large airports.


44.  The main local pollutants arising from aviation are oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter.[82] Ed Mitchell, from the Environment Agency, told us:

a third [of air pollutants come] from the airport operations themselves, a third from the traffic and travel associated with the airport, and then a third from other background sources such as traffic unrelated to the airport. If you take Heathrow, the airport contribution is slightly higher at around 40%, from memory.[83]

He added that "to put this in context, the emissions of oxides of nitrogen from Heathrow are roughly the same as from a standard power station" and that the difference was that a power station emitted these pollutants up a tall chimney meaning that there was greater dispersal and as a result ground level concentrations were not as high.[84] Colin Matthews, from Heathrow, acknowledged that pollution was a serious issue and that aviation played a role, but he believed that the problem around Heathrow was mostly generated by diesel engines from traffic on the M4 and the M25.[85] The Environment Agency informed us that "concentrations of nitrogen dioxide were expected to continue to exceed the EU air quality limit for the foreseeable future".[86] We recommend that airport operators develop action plans to reduce air pollutants that are generated by vehicles travelling within airports. These should include a timeline for the introduction of low carbon airport vehicles, including aircraft towing vehicles. We note that many airports already produce surface access strategies setting targets for reducing the number of staff and passengers travelling to and from airports by car. Where air pollutants exceed EU limits Government should draw up plans to ensure that EU limits are met.


45.  Aircraft noise is the most emotive issue for many of the people living under the Heathrow flight path in west London and we received a number of written submissions on this subject from individuals and community organisations in this area.[87] Commenting on the impact of aviation growth on noise annoyance, the Mayor of London told us that:

Heathrow cannot provide a third runway without doing immense damage to the well-being of Londoners through increased noise pollution, but it is inconceivable to imagine that Heathrow could provide a fourth runway without immense political grief, and, as I say, colossal noise pollution slap-bang in the western suburbs of London.[88]

Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, agreed that expansion of Heathrow was politically challenging and that "one of the downsides of being an elected politician is that you are called upon to make some sensible long-term economic decisions".[89] He was somewhat less sympathetic to those suffering from aircraft noise when he posed the question "do you pander to the noisy militant few or do you actually make sensible long-term economic decisions in favour of the many?"[90]

46.  The Mayor of London helped us to quantify Mr O'Leary's "noisy militant few"; he told us that "766,000 people in west London experience noise pollution from that airport in excess of 55 decibels (dB). That is almost 30% of the entire excess noise pollution suffered by people around airports in the whole of Europe".[91] The Noise Observation and Information Service for Europe (NOISE), which is maintained on behalf of the European Commission, provides further information on people suffering from noise pollution which help to put this in context. NOISE states that the number of people exposed to noise (in excess of 55 dB Lden) from major UK airports overall is 1,057,200, of which it reports that the majority (725,500 people) are in the vicinity of Heathrow. However, it also reports that the number of people exposed to noise (in excess of 55 dB Lden) from UK roads overall is an order of magnitude greater, at 15,363,300.[92] The London Borough of Hillingdon told us that the "55 dB Lden contour" used in the European Union Noise Directive takes account of the differing impacts of noise at different times of the day (night noise being the most intrusive), whilst the DfT measure of the "57 dB LAeq16h contour", uses a higher noise level and is measured as a straight average over a 16-hour day.[93] The latter was considered to be "outdated" and "unacceptable".[94] The Government accepted that people do not experience noise in an averaged manner but stated that it would nonetheless continue to produce noise exposure maps using the 57 dB LAeq16h contour, which it considered were "important to show historic trends".[95] However, it encouraged airport operators "to use alternative measures which better reflect how aircraft noise is experienced in different localities".[96]


47.  Providing predictable periods of respite from noise is one way in which operating procedures at airports can be changed to mitigate the local impacts of growth in aviation. Sian Foster, from Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Paul Simmons, UK Director for easyJet, both acknowledged that, in this context, it was very important for airlines to work with local communities and other stakeholders including airports, air traffic controllers and aircraft manufacturers to "look at perceptions of noise and what could be done to alleviate noise impact on local populations".[97] The impact of recent operational changes, such as the Operational Freedoms trial at Heathrow, are discussed later in this report.[98]

48.  Another operational change which could have a beneficial impact on air pollution and noise around airports is the use of steeper aircraft approaches on landing. Andrew Haines, CEO of the CAA, explained that a 3 approach was standard across the world but that NATS was particularly keen to explore a two-stage approach.[99] This would mean that an aircraft's final descent, coming into the airport, remained at 3, but that further away from the airport, the aircraft would approach at a steeper angle. It was acknowledged that this would deliver no benefits for people living close to the airport but it was hoped that significantly less noise would be experienced by people living slightly further away.[100] NATS stated that several airports in the UK already use a 3.5 approach and London City Airport uses a 5.5° approach.[101] However, further feasibility work needs to be carried out before such changes could be introduced at Heathrow Airport.[102]

49.  As with global environmental impacts, in addition to operational measures there are potential technological solutions to mitigate the local impacts of aviation growth. Modern aircraft can be designed to produce fewer air pollutants and to be quieter. Willie Walsh, from IAG, explained that there are global standards for noise (as agreed by the ICAO) and that these have helped to deliver "progress in relation to the noise performance of existing aircraft".[103] Virgin Atlantic Airways, for example, will be introducing the Boeing 787 to its fleet. These aircraft are "a lot quieter with a 60% smaller noise footprint than the planes they will replace".[104] Mr Walsh added that manufacturers have taken on board the message from airlines that an aircraft's environmental performance is just as important as its price.[105] However, John Stewart, from HACAN, said that the industry was confident that planes would become cleaner and increasingly fuel-efficient but "less confident of another significant step-change in quieter aircraft".[106]

50.  Nonetheless, noise and poor air quality are unlikely ever to be entirely eliminated. Tim Johnson, Director of the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF), said the problem was that the UK had not had a "comprehensive approach" in terms of trying to provide adequate compensation for those who live around airports.[107] The Government's new Aviation Policy Framework sets out its expectations on what compensation, for example in the form of insulation, airport operators should offer households and other noise-sensitive buildings, such as schools and hospitals, exposed to high levels of noise (63 dB LAeq16h or more).[108] The Framework also states that:

Any potential proposals for new nationally significant airport development projects following any Government decision on future recommendation(s) from the Airports Commission would need to consider tailored compensation schemes where appropriate, which would be subject to separate consultation.[109]

51.  Aircraft noise is an annoyance to a large number of people. We note that airlines value an aircraft's environmental performance and that new aircraft are quieter than their predecessors. Aircraft manufacturers should continue to develop quieter aircraft and, to facilitate this, we recommend that the Government seek to influence global noise standards through its involvement with the International Civil Aviation Organization. Airports should encourage airlines to take older, noisier aircraft out of service at the earliest possible opportunity.

52.  We urge the Civil Aviation Authority immediately to review existing flight paths and landing angles to reduce noise pollution, especially over London.

53.  People living in the vicinity of airports must be properly compensated—for example through the provision of noise insulation—for the noise annoyance they experience, especially when growth in Air Traffic Movements at a given airport result in the level of noise they experience increasing significantly. We recommend that the Government and the aviation industry develop a comprehensive nationwide approach to noise compensation. As part of this work, an assessment should be made of the minimum standards of compensation that are acceptable, and of the costs and benefits associated with providing different types of compensation to those experiencing different levels of noise (for example, 55 dB Lden and 57-63 dB LAeq16h). We consider that this work should be carried out in parallel with the work of the Airports Commission so that the compensation package is clearly defined by the time the Commission makes its final recommendations.

64   Committee on Climate Change, Meeting the UK aviation target - options for reducing emissions to 2050, December 2009, p 22 Back

65   Committee on Climate Change, Meeting the UK aviation target - options for reducing emissions to 2050, December 2009, p 27 Back

66   Q 739 [Ed Mitchell] Back

67   Q 249 [Willie Walsh] Back

68   Q 216 [John Stewart] Back

69   Q 217 [Anthony Rae]; and Q 688-695 [Jean Leston and Keith Allott] Back

70   AS 084A, [Heathrow Airport Ltd]  Back

71   Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, p 41 Back

72   Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, p 47 Back

73   Q 60 [Simon Buck] Back

74   Q 11 [Sian Foster] Back

75   Qq 657-659 [Jean Leston and Matt Williams] Back

76   Q 260 [Willie Walsh] Back

77   Q 260 [Willie Walsh] Back

78   Q 194 [John Stewart]; and Q 684 [Matt Williams] Back

79   Formerly "National Air Traffic Services" Back

80   AS 051, para 1.11 [NATS] Back

81   Q 743 [Environment Agency] Back

82   AS 026, Annex 1 [Environment Agency] Back

83   Q 755 [Ed Mitchell] Back

84   Q 758 [Ed Mitchell] Back

85   Q 165 [Colin Matthews] Back

86   AS 026, Annex 1 [Environment Agency] Back

87   For example: AS 001 [Elizabeth M. Balsom]; AS 010 [HACAN]; AS 016 [London Borough of Hillingdon]; AS 028 [West Windsor Residents Association]; AS 035 [Zac Goldsmith MP]; AS 076 [Richmond Heathrow Campaign]; AS 083 [Local Authorities Aircraft Noise Council]; AS 097 [Mr Terence Hughes]; AS 101 [London Borough of Hounslow] Back

88   Q 764 [Boris Johnson] Back

89   Q 97 [Michael O'Leary] Back

90   Q 97 [Michael O'Leary] Back

91   Q 771 [Boris Johnson] Back

92   Noise Observation and Information Service for Europe, Noise exposure data "END_DF4_Results", December 2012 Back

93   AS016, para 26 [London Borough of Hillingdon] Back

94   AS016, paras 26-27 [London Borough of Hillingdon] Back

95   Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, p 57-58 Back

96   Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, p 58 Back

97   Q 61 [Sian Foster and Paul Simmons] Back

98   Paragraph 81 Back

99   Qq 320-321 [Andrew Haines] Back

100   Qq321-322 [Andrew Haines and Simon Hocquard]; and AS 051A [NATS] Back

101   AS 051A [NATS] Back

102   Q 313 [Richard Deakin] Back

103   Q 279 [Willie Walsh] Back

104   Q 42 [Sian Foster] Back

105   Q 262 [Willie Walsh] Back

106   Q 192 [John Stewart] Back

107   Q 232 [Tim Johnson] Back

108   Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, p 63 Back

109   Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, p 63 Back

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Prepared 15 May 2013