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Government sets out draft plans for UK aviation policy

The Government has today set out draft plans for the policy approach to the UK aviation sector over the next few decades. 

The Aviation Strategy Green Paper is strongly pro-growth and sets out how the Government intends to support both more intensive use of existing airport capacity, and develop a new framework for considering the case for further runway expansion, in addition to the third runway at Heathrow. 

The strategy has been built around six objectives, defined in an earlier document setting out the strategy framework:

  • Help the aviation industry work for its customers
  • Ensure a safe and secure way to travel
  • Build a global and connected Britain
  • Encourage competitive markets
  • Support growth while tackling environmental impacts
  • Develop innovation, technology and skills

We have been critical of the lack of any freestanding environmental objectives, suggesting that the sector’s environmental impacts will only be addressed to the extent that this doesn’t compromise growth.  

Deputy Director Cait Hewitt said:

We’ll need some time to properly digest the detail of the proposals. We welcome the publication of new evidence on the key environmental challenges facing the sector. 

But deciding in advance that aviation growth should be prioritised above action to get to grips with the sector’s climate change, noise and air pollution impacts casts doubt over the extent to which the Government has made a proper, evidence-based review of these issues.

On climate change, the Government claims to have accepted the advice of its official advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, to plan for aviation emissions to be no higher in 2050 than they were in 2005. But rather than rein in those emissions it wants to allow airlines to paper over the cracks by buying carbon offsets.

Airports seeking expansion will need to consider “cost-effective” measures to limit their climate impact, but the Government will not be mandating sector-specific reduction targets, or formally including aviation in carbon budgets.

On noise, we’re disappointed not to see any clear commitments to develop policy in line with the recommendations from the World Health Organisation, which were designed to ensure aircraft noise doesn’t compromise public health.

The strategy has failed to set out the bold action needed on the sector’s environmental impacts. The only measures that get a look in are those that don’t impose significant costs on the industry or get in the way of growth. 

AEF has published a series of discussion papers on the key environmental impacts we think the Government needs to address by way of the aviation strategy

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