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New Government aviation policy no longer advocates new runways, but leaves big gaps over how noise and climate change impacts should be tackled

The Government has today published its aviation framework document, setting out its vision for the long-term development of the sector in the UK, including the environmental framework in which future questions about airport capacity and new runways should be assessed.

The Framework replaces the 2003 Air Transport White Paper, against which AEF campaigned for many years. While the previous policy had supported the building of new runways at Heathrow, Stansted, and either Glasgow or Edinburgh, the new policy gives no explicit support to any proposals for new airport capacity.

Having begun the process of policy review with a commitment to give greater weight to “the challenge of climate change”, however, the Framework sets out only general aspirations for the sector to make a significant contribution to tackling this challenge, without indicating any national policy measures that might achieve this aim.  Instead, hopes are pinned on international talks and the assumption that if these fail, the EU will enforce appropriate regional measures. There is no expectation international talks will succeed.

On noise, the new policy acknowledges some of the shortcomings of the current metric system for monitoring community annoyance, yet makes no specific proposals for revising it. Relevant evidence presented in the draft framework on how noise sensitivity has increased over time has been removed, with no reference made to the previous acknowledgment that: “International research carried out in recent years by the World Health Organization, European Environment Agency (EEA) and others seems to reinforce the finding that the level of aircraft noise exposure at which a certain level of annoyance occurs has decreased in the last 20-30 years.” (Draft Aviation Policy Framework D.5)

Numerous unsubstantiated references are made to claimed economic benefits from aviation, meanwhile. Emphasis is placed on aviation’s ability to contribute to future economic growth, despite the ongoing lack of any convincing evidence indicating that an increase in aviation capacity will generate growth in trade.

The policy published today provides, we consider, the bare bones of the environmental impacts that should guide the Airports Commission – the independent body currently assessing UK airport capacity, and due to report to Government in 2015. But there remains a need to align airports policy with the implications of the UK Climate Change Act, and with public expectations on noise. We will be calling on the Airports Commission to clarify what specific environmental conditions it recommends should be applied.

AEF continues to support inclusion of aviation in the UK’s carbon budgets, a reduction in the official noise threshold at which significant community annoyance occurs (currently 57 dB Leq), and improvements to the way in which public safety and air pollution are addressed.