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New AEF report challenges myth of airport capacity crisis

25th June, 2012

Since the Government announced its policy of opposition to new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, the aviation industry has been working hard to put out the message that there is a crisis in airport capacity in the South East. Media coverage of airports issues have tended to start from this assumption, asking, in relation to new runways  ‘if not at Heathrow, then where?’

In fact, however, the Government’s forecasts of air traffic demand indicate that even if no constraints on airport growth were imposed for environmental reasons, passenger demand could be entirely met with existing infrastructure until nearly 2030.  Even if no new runways were built anywhere in the UK before 2030, only about 3% of air traffic would be squeezed out.

AEF’s new report (linked below), which provides a detailed analysis of the forecasts, identifies a long term trend of passenger demand being overestimated: every time that the Government has revised its forecasts, the numbers have been downgraded. In the latest set of figures, which reflect to some extent the impact of recession, demand is down from 500 million passengers per year (mppa) at 2030 in the 2007 forecasts to 343 mppa in the 2011 forecast.

Even so, we consider that the forecasts up to 2030 may still be too high, as they assume:

  • A resumption in economic growth at around 2% pa or above and continuing indefinitely, which AEF considers very uncertain
  • No increase in oil prices (despite evidence of increasing demand and increasingly difficult and expensive approaches to extraction), and
  • A continuation of aviation’s tax exemptions (including no fuel tax and no VAT)


Recent figures from WWF-UK showed that some of the UK’s leading businesses, including Lloyds TSB, BSkyB, and Marks & Spencer have reduced their business flights by 41% over 2 years, saving £2.4 million and reducing emissions by 3,600 tonnes CO2 as part of WWF’s One in Five Challenge. The scheme aims to help companies and Government departments to cut 20% of flights within 5 years.  Members say that lower carbon ways of staying connected, such as advanced videoconferencing, are actually helping them to increase their efficiency, citing less time spent out of the office, faster decision making, productivity gains and increased collaboration, reports WWF.


AEF Passenger Forecasts SUMMARY

AEF Passenger Forecasts analysis

UK Aviation Forecasts from the Department for Transport