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Heathrow submits new scheme for a third runway

The scheme promoters for the three options the Airports Commission shortlisted in December for a new runway are required to submit their revised proposals by the end of this week (16th May 2014). Heathrow Airport submitted their scheme today, as did Heathrow Hub, and Gatwick is expected to follow tomorrow.

While the updated scheme contains new proposals intended to deal with environmental issues, many of the concerns we raised about the original proposal are relevant to this version.

Heathrow makes a commitment in the new scheme to “keep(ing) CO2 emissions within UK climate change targets” and reproduces theSustainable Aviation CO2 roadmap, which anticipates far greater emissions reductions from, for example, biofuels and new technology than official forecasts predict. However, much of the roadmap relies on changes occurring outside of Heathrow’s control and so other than “incentivising cleaner aircraft” and “increasing public transport use”, the airport can do little to meet this commitment. The CCC’s advice is that only a limited amount of aviation growth is possible within carbon targets and if Heathrow significantly increases its emissions (today’s publication doesn’t tell us by how much), there will be very little of the total allowable CO2 to go around other UK airports, despite the fact that many of them have significant spare capacity and plans to use it.

Heathrow also commits to playing its part in meeting local air quality limits but its promises on this look similarly shallow. A new idea in the updated plans is to introduce a congestion charge for those accessing the airport by road if a new runway is built. Air pollution at Heathrow is already above EU legal limits and as pollution from aircraft themselves adds to the problem, an additional 270,000 flights for an additional 40 million passengers and a doubling of freight capacity is likely to significantly increase the levels of NOx. A congestion charge would presumably need to be extremely high to reduce surface traffic sufficiently. Heathrow’s outgoing CEO, Colin Matthews, recently highlighted the scale of the air pollution problem around the airport by saying that effectively the M4 would need to be diesel free for legal air quality limits to be met.

A third commitment in the updated proposal is to “reduce aircraft noise and lessen noise impacts for people under flight paths”, including a compensation package for some of the people affected by noise. But even if Heathrow managed to achieve the unlikely feat of reducing noise despite increasing the number of flights by around 50%, the reduction in noise around the airport and under flights paths would fall far short of the level the WHO describes as necessary to avoid negative health impacts. The scale of the noise problem around Heathrow is so great, meanwhile, that the most generous noise compensation scheme in the world would be insufficient to compensate everybody affected.

Image credit: Hugh Llewelyn via Flickr