30 NOVEMBER 2009

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Article from BTNews 30 NOVEMBER 2009

COMMENT: Smoking is banned

Some of us are old enough to remember looking up in the sky and seeing the smoke trails being put out by the early jets such as the Boeing 707.  We never thought much about it except as a way of spotting aircraft.  “Emission” was a word that was not in the regular vocabulary, except perhaps when learning about life in the school laboratory.

Jump forward half a century and “emissions” are in the newspaper every day.  Not just for aircraft, but power stations too, and focussing on travel only, diesel-powered ships, railways and road transport.  In 50 years aviation has made tremendous progress in terms of emission efficiency and even the most ardent anti-airport lobbyist has to accept that figures are tiny compared with coal-fired electricity generating stations (and even cows we are told).  They much accept also that by 2070 great strides would have been made again (and even by 2050).

At Copenhagen (which starts on 6 December) the world’s leaders will meet and put out a waffle press release (probably already written by the secretariat) boldly stating a timetable for dealing with climate change.

Most of the political heads (and their entourages) would have flown in!  8,000 people representing 170 countries. 

No mention will probably be made of military aviation, a very serious polluter.  That is defence, a taboo subject.

Copenhagen is but one news headline that gives the anti-airport lobby a platform to fight any expansion of airline operations and in particular Heathrow.  BAA, whilst true it has commercial considerations, does fly the flag appreciating that its number one airport is the international commercial hub of Britain.  Willie Walsh, British Airways CEO, who has his other problems, is very strong regarding the third runway.

Next week the Government's Committee on Climate Change, headed by David Kennedy, is due to pronounce in its UK aviation report.  What he says might have an impact on the latest referral by the anti-third runway organisation due in the High Court in February.  

British Airways, Virgin, the airports group BAA, defence firm BAE Systems and manufacturers Airbus UK and Rolls-Royce are all signatories to the Sustainable Aviation Manifesto.  Essentially what it says is that it is no good Britain going alone.  What we need is a single global framework for emissions.

Yesterday (29 November) The Sunday Times found room for two anti-aviation stories.  The Times itself has been essentially against Heathrow’s third runway although it will always argue that it offers a balanced view.  It also has a policy, to its credit, of mentioning that it is part of the Murdoch organisation when stepping into dangerous waters that might be controversial.  Perhaps they should quote where the anti-airport lobbyist lives and for how long.  And when they flew last.  The Times needs to re-think its policy.

To its credit this government has stood by the third runway.  It recognises how vital Heathrow is to the British economy.  The latest continental airport figures demonstrate that it is the preferred European hub.  But for how long?  The Mayor of London pontificates regarding an estuary landing strip.  Would he have done so if he was still MP for Henley, commercially dependent on Heathrow, or is he just stopping his rival from having a platform?

Heathrow currently runs at around 97% of its allowed movement capacity, its competitors much less so with room for expansion.  Whilst it is true that the advent of the A380 is increasing the average passenger load per aircraft upwards from the present 165 what Heathrow needs is a good mix of planes, from the 70-seat Bombardier turboprop to the Airbus giant.

The climate change gathering is for the good.  It highlights the possible problems.

But the UK needs a level playing field.  And if we are to prosper it requires Heathrow to stay top of the premier league when it comes to the world’s airports.  This government has been pro-Heathrow.  The next one should stay that way too.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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