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“Predict and provide” UK air transport expansion finally hits the buffers!

8th December, 2009


Committee on Climate Change advice to meet UK carbon targets: slash passenger numbers, cut flights, raise ticket prices, boost rail and video-conferencing

Passenger numbers should be limited to 370 million by 2050, down 100 m from the 2003 Aviation White Paper 2030 forecast; Flight numbers should be limited in turn to no more than 3.4 million

Today’s Committee on Climate Change report on UK aviation growth and greenhouse gas emissions slams the brakes on the unrestrained expansion forecast in the now hopelessly outdated and discredited 2003 White Paper. The Committee will tell Government that UK aviation growth cannot exceed 60% above today’s passenger numbers, not the 200%+ figure the Government still desperately clings to.

The Committee has looked critically and in-depth at aviation industry claims in respect of new more fuel efficient aircraft and engine technology, air traffic management gains and the overblown “miracle fuel” contribution from biomass claimed by airline industry lobby groups such as IATA and analyses them in 2 scenarios, succinctly labelled “optimistic” and “speculative”.

In contrast, the Committee’s preferred “likely” scenario emphasises the need for prudence to ensure the target that UK aviation’s actual CO2 levels in 2050 do not exceed those in 2005. The Committee’s view is that as growth will overtake their forecast of realistic efficiency gains, a range of demand management and alternatives to flying need to form part of the Government’s carbon reduction strategy for aviation.

These include:

* High speed rail, both domestic and European, taking 10% of demand

* Video-conferencing substituting for up to 30% of business travel over the period to 2050

* A carbon price rising to £200/tCO2 by 2050

However, the Committee’s report clearly and unequivocally states that:

“clear additional policies beyond the introduction of a carbon price at this level will … be required to constrain passenger demand”

The Committee remarks that “Given the likely pace of technological progress a demand increase of up to 60% but no more could be compatible with the government’s target.” Our view is that that leaves a policy gap that could be filled by infrastructure constraints as well as additional aviation taxes.

The report also calls for a watching brief on the non-CO2 impacts of aviation which they believe will lead to the overall target being tightened in the future.

Jeff Gazzard, Aviation Environment Federation Board Member, said:

“The Committee on Climate Change has placed once-and-for all limits on aviation expansion and the onus is now firmly on the industry to deliver actual low carbon growth, not just talk about it! Passenger and flight limits plus demand management in the form of realistic carbon pricing are long overdue, as is a complete revision of the 2003 White Paper. The capital costs of expanding airports particularly in London and the South East are firmly under the microscope as airport businesses will now have to invest and operate in a demand-constrained framework through to 2050 that must curtail their aggressive plans for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.”