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Draft aviation policy published, but environmental questions remain unanswered

UK aviation policy will, in the short term, focus on making the most of existing capacity, reveals the draft aviation policy framework published today. Despite recent industry lobbying for new runways, a consultation on possibilities for airport expansion as part of the Government’s commitment to retain the UK’s hub status has been postponed until after the summer. A range of measures for increasing the efficiency of UK aviation are proposed, including a review of slot rules, opportunities for market liberalisation and possible restrictions on the use of smaller aircraft. In addition, the policy sets out high level goals in relation to climate change, noise and other environmental impacts.

AEF strongly agrees with the Government that opportunities for improving the UK’s connectivity without building new runways should be explored. We very much welcome the principle that aviation expansion should be considered only within the context of an appropriate environmental framework. But we are disappointed by the lack of any timetables or targets for UK action on aviation’s environmental impacts.

On climate change, the policy notes that global progress has been slow and remains uncertain. In relation to European action, it acknowledges that as the current emissions cap is insufficiently stringent to ensure a global temperature rise not greater than 2 degrees, it cannot be considered to deliver a fair contribution from European airlines towards that target. Biofuels, the paper notes, may not deliver the radical emissions reductions some in the industry have been hoping for, since sustainable biofuels are scarce, and aviation will need to compete for them with other sectors. Nevertheless the Government expresses a preference for global or European solutions on climate change, reserving judgement on whether or not the UK should impose its own aviation emissions cap.

On noise, while a number of possibilities are set out in relation to how future noise limits might be expressed, and there is an acknowledgement that community engagement in relation to noise impacts from airports must be improved, there is no sign of when the Government will tackle the fundamental problem in that many UK airports have no effective noise limits in place.

Overall, the policy provides:

  • No target for UK aviation emissions (the previous Government by contrast stated that aviation emissions should be no higher in 2050 than in 2005)
  • No timetable for accurately assessing the impact of non-CO2 emissions from aircraft (in the past it had been estimated that aviation emissions cause almost twice the climate damage of emissions at ground level)
  • No update to (or timetable for updating) the figure of 57 Leq as the marker of significant community annoyance from aircraft noise, despite an acknowledgement that evidence suggests people are now annoyed at lower noise levels than in the past
  • No timetable for bringing aviation noise levels within the limits recommended for health by the World Health Organisation, despite acknowledging that environmental noise can increase levels of stress and risk of heart attack.

 

Given the Coalition commitment to ensuring that aviation expansion will not take place at a cost of quality of life or climate commitments, AEF looks forward to engaging with Government over the coming months over how and when these issues can be resolved. The consultation closes on 31st October.

See also this short press statement.