Despite the dramatic downturn in air traffic caused by the Covid pandemic the owners of Gatwick Airport are pressing ahead with plans to expand capacity by opening up a second runway. In this article, Anne Davies, from campaign group CAGNE, argues why this is environmental madness, and why local authorities need to unbuckle and get off the Gatwick plane, and instead reorient their economic strategies towards more sustainable industries.
Residents around Gatwick Airport are sleeping better thanks to the lack of aircraft noise 24/7. But many are unaware that the airport’s management are going ahead with plans to increase Gatwick’s capacity by rebuilding their emergency runway as a second runway.
Lockdown has illustrated, however, as did the 2008 recession, that Gatwick is neither economically nor environmentally sustainable. And this is before you factor in the impact of Brexit.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced airlines to cut up to 90% of their capacity with Gatwick estimating that they are back to 1971 traffic levels. The predicted losses are colossal. Time and again, the instability of Gatwick has ramifications for service industries, resulting in shock waves well outside the immediate Gatwick catchment area.
No one knows how long travel will be restricted. So it is extremely hard to predict what will be needed to keep companies afloat or decide which should be helped. There are also serious questions as to how the climate crisis can, or should, figure in any airline and airport bailouts.
For nearby local authorities to place their long-term economic development hopes in one basket – Gatwick’s – seems increasingly short sighted on both economic and environmental grounds.
Although Gatwick declares itself green, it does this because it purchases renewable power from elsewhere and has water fountains. But it omits to mention the on-site incinerator and the fossil fuel burning planes, over 285,000 in 2019. Pre-lockdown, Gatwick planned on 297,000 aircraft movements annually by 2050, generating 2.7MtCO2. With two runways this would add nearly 1MtCO2 to this figure.
The aviation industry has been pinning hopes of solving the problems of aviation emissions on new technology. But with electric planes looking to be viable for only very short-haul flights, and biofuels still expensive and in demand from other sectors, the future for fossil-fuel-free flying still seems a long way off.
Many airlines offer carbon offsetting as an apparent antidote to aircraft emission. The notion is that by paying to plant trees, or some other carbon-saving project, you can make up for the emission associated with your flights. But the reality of offsetting projects is often very different, as this Friends of the Earth article explains. It concludes that “in most cases it seems clear that carbon offsetting doesn’t work in practice.”
It’s also worth remembering that demand for aviation growth is being driven by a minority of frequent flyers, with 70% of UK flights are made by just 15% of the population.
With so many job losses at Gatwick we have to encourage government and local authorities to look to greener forms of industry to bring sustainable economic benefits to country.
Job creation has long been used by airports to justify expansion. But the reality is often very different. Gatwick had already planned job losses prior to lockdown. The promise of a plethora of airport jobs is being undermined by the ongoing efficiency drive in the industry and increased automation. Many low skilled positions on zero-hour contracts will disappear anyway so we need to retrain workers in sustainable greener forms of industry instead.
In CAGNE’s view, taxation also needs be linked to emissions. Its response to the recent government consultation on Taxation of Carbon Emissions argued that Air Passenger Duty must remain, green taxes must be paid as well as VAT and Duty, which aviation is exempt from. There needs to be a level playing field where aviation no longer receives such subsidies. Investment needs to go into green forms of transport instead – which is why we are delighted to see the first hydrogen trains and buses being trialed.
Even after much lobbying by aviation and the travel industry, the government announced in September that Air Passenger Duty (APD) will rise for economy and premium carriage on medium and long-haul flights from April next year by 2.5%. The duty on economy fares goes from £80 to £82, while the tax on premium seats is to rise by 2.3 per cent from £176 to £180. Domestic flights and short haul are not included.
Airlines can also expect to see increases in costs of air traffic control as they seek to recoup loss in revenue during Covid, with some airlines stating that they have only six months of cash available and may not see next summer, whilst some regional airports face bankruptcy.
The need to rethink the future of aviation is staring us in the face and was one of the recommendations in the Climate Assembly UK report published in September. Assembly members rejected predictions that air passenger numbers would rise by as much as 65% between 2018 and 2050, labelling it as counterproductive, and argued for a range of measures to reduce the climate impact of flying, including:
- scrapping incentives to make people fly more, such as air miles
- creating a frequent flier tax
- evening out the cost of air travel compared to alternatives
- promoting and incentivising UK holidays
Talk of expansion and growth in air traffic not only blights the communities of Sussex, Surrey and Kent with the threat of 50,000 extra planes a year, but also completely ignores the climate impacts of flying. The fact is that aircraft are not green, and will not be going green any time soon.
CAGNE’s view is that until Gatwick can properly reduce the carbon they produce growth must be stopped.
We ask you to join CAGNE and lobby your elected members to use the planning process to block Gatwick’s expansion plans.
Established in 2014, CAGNE – or Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emission – represents and acts for communities east and west of Gatwick airport that are, or might be, negatively affected by aircraft noise and would be impacted by the negative social, economic and environmental impact on the area of a possible Second Runway.
To find out more about CAGNE and their campaign efforts visit: http://cagne.org/