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Gaping holes in Airports Commission’s analysis of airport expansion conceal potential environmental disaster

3rd February, 2015


Gaping holes in Airports Commission’s analysis of airport expansion conceal potential environmental disaster

A new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick would be an ‘environmental disaster’, says the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) [1] on the closing day of the Airports Commission’s final public consultation. The Commission’s analysis showed that a new runway would result in increased public health damage from noise and air pollution, and that CO2 emissions would breach the level compatible with climate change legislation unless the Government was to take new action to control them.  But the Commission ran out of time to complete key pieces of research on greenhouse gas emissions and on air quality.

Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director of Aviation Environment Federation said:

“A new runway at any of the shortlisted sites would be an environmental disaster, the Commission’s evidence suggests. But without a proper environmental analysis having been completed, the next Government will struggle to get an accurate picture of the full costs and benefits of expansion.

We are very disappointed that despite the thousands of pages of analysis the Commission has published on its short-listed proposals, the environmental analysis it committed to undertaking has not been finished in time.  By its own admission, the Commission has not completed a detailed enough assessment of the impacts of a new runway either on air quality or on the cost of meeting national carbon commitments.

The environmental assessment presented so far is a patchwork of often damning, though incomplete, evidence about the impact of expansion, which could take place in areas described by the Commission as already suffering from ‘environmental stress’.”

In its response to the consultation [2], AEF criticised the Commission for leaving major gaps in its evidence, notably

  • Failure to complete local air quality modelling in time for the consultation, despite the Commission’s assessment objective being “to improve air quality in line with EU air quality laws”
  • Failure to follow the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation that the economic impact assessment of expansion must include the costs associated with meeting emissions targets, and
  • Failure to provide any analysis of how noise impacts would vary if different assumptions were made about the location of flight paths, especially as these have been labelled ‘indicative and not representative’.

Several new pieces of evidence have appeared during the consultation, meanwhile, sometimes within weeks of the deadline, leaving little time for the public to respond, while gaping holes in the analysis suggest that the overall environmental impact may have been significantly underestimated.

AEF is now calling on political parties not to accept the Airports Commission’s recommendations until all the relevant evidence has been gathered and made available for public scrutiny.



  1. The  Aviation Environment Federation is a UK based NGO working at national, EU and global levels (including participating in UN aviation talks at ICAO) to secure effective regulation of the environmental impacts of aviation. We are supported by individuals, community groups and charitable trusts.
  2. The full AEF submission will available on our website by 5pm on 3/2/15, or by email on request.

Contact: Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director, 020 3102 1509 /