Airports can generate environmental impacts of their own. On-site engine testing and surface access requirements create noise and air pollution, large volumes of waste need to be managed, contaminated surface water run-off can affect nearby water sources and ground water, and airport buildings generate light and emissions. But in general the most significant impacts of an airport arise from the flights it accommodates (airport ‘carbon neutral’ claims never include the emissions from aircraft once they’re beyond the landing and take-off phase, for example), making runway capacity questions an important part of our work.
Airport capacity and environmental limits
Consideration of a possible new runway in the South East was in 2012 delegated to a specially formed Commission that was charged with making recommendations to Government in 2015, immediately after the election.
Outside the South East, the Government prefers decisions about airports to be taken at a local level (but in line with the presumption in favour of development introduced by the National Planning Policy Framework in 2011). While the 2003 Air Transport White Paper had detailed the Government’s vision for specific UK airports, its successor, the Aviation Policy Framework, set out only high level principles about factors to be taken into account in airport decision making and set very few meaningful environmental restrictions on their growth and development.
The AEF view
We believe that airport capacity questions should be considered within a framework of meaningful environmental limits in relation to climate change, aircraft noise, air pollution and other impacts. For this to be possible environmental targets need to be clearly defined. In the case of noise, the key Government objective to ‘limit and where possible reduce’ the number of people exposed to aircraft noise is of limited use as a test for whether airport expansion is acceptable. In relation to climate, however, the existence of the Climate Change Act provides a useful level of certainty. Both our own research and official forecasts indicate that there is sufficient airport capacity already in the UK to accommodate the maximum growth in aviation that would be compatible with the Act.
We oppose the building of any new runways in the UK without demonstrable evidence that they can operate within the constraints of environmental limits, and we’re working to highlight why a new South East runway would make the Climate Act impossible to achieve. We also support airports in improving their environmental performance and have, for example, produced research on alternative approaches to air traffic management that could help deliver noise and emissions benefits.
See our policy briefs on the Airports Commission in the documents list below. All posts related to the work of the Airports Commission have been tagged and available here.