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AEF publishes guide to UK airport planning applications and current expansions

23rd September, 2020

Since net zero became law, the Government has remained silent on what this means for aviation, its future growth and airport capacity. Modelling undertaken by the UK Government’s climate advisors, the CCC, assumes a growth in air passenger numbers of 25% on today’s levels if we are to achieve net zero by 2050 – far less than the growth anticipated by the Government prior to the Coronavirus pandemic. Demand growth could be limited by increasing the cost of flying, or limiting airport capacity growth, the CCC has argued. This raises serious questions about the viability of further expansion of airport infrastructure. 

Despite the CCC’s advice, there is no legal requirement for airport expansion to stay within this (or any) maximum growth allowance, although it was encouraging to see the Examining Authority give the CCC’s recommendations weight in the Manston DCO hearing (see our guide on Manston Airport’s development for more information). In 2019, Carbon Brief found that UK airports were aiming for an increase of 166 million passengers (59%) on the 2017 level of 279 million – more than double the growth of 25%, assumed by the CCC. 

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the aviation industry and the numbers of passengers flying, with most experts agreeing that it will be several years, at least, before there’s a return to pre-pandemic levels of aviation activity. But while some airports have put their plans on hold, overall there has been surprisingly little dampening of the industry’s enthusiasm to continue pursuing expansion plans. AEF’s newly published guide to airport expansion lists a total of seven UK airports with major expansion plans up and down the UK. 

AEF’s airport expansion guide will track the progress of new and existing applications, and will be updated at regular intervals. We continue to press for a moratorium on all airport expansion plans, until and unless they can be shown to be compatible with the UK’s net zero plans.