Engineers oppose plans to halt expansion of UK's biggest airports
Engineering experts have urged the Government to rethink its plans for UK aviation and airport development, in a move that could have big implications for developments at Birmingham Airport.
Birmingham Airport has been looking to attract new customers turned away by airports in the South-East after the Government announced a policy to prevent expansion at the biggest airports in the country.
But in a report published today, the Institution for Civil Engineers has warned that what it calls the “better not bigger” approach to airport runway capacity would undermine the UK’s global competitiveness.
The ICE report, called Rethinking Aviation acknowledged that the Government has ruled out building additional runway capacity in the South East as part of the aim to reduce aviation emissions, and agreed that unrestrained growth in demand for air travel without quick improvements in aircraft efficiency would damage the environment and needs addressing.
But it urged the Government to think carefully about the UK’s long-term airport infrastructure needs and the wider implications of its decision.
ICE aviation expert Simon Godfrey-Arnold said: “We agree the green agenda must be priority, and realise that when it comes to the UK’s airport infrastructure needs, there are some tough political and public choices. But we believe there are choices that can secure the best outcomes for the environment, society and the economy.
“Air transport and airport infrastructure are vital for the UK’s international connectivity and prosperity. As a trading island nation and popular tourist destination we depend on our ability to connect with the rest of the world.
"World class airport infrastructure helps attract inward investment, enables access to an international labour force and provides direct business and leisure links to growing economies around the world like China, Brazil and India.
“But Heathrow, with its two runways, is currently operating at 99 per cent of permitted capacity. Journey times are increasing as aircraft become stacked up in queues both on the ground and in the air.
"Capacity constraints could result in international carriers abandoning our hub airport in favour of larger and more economically attractive northern European hubs, such as Amsterdam Schiphol which has five runways and Frankfurt which has three and a fourth in progress.
"If the Government is still against South East expansion after full consideration it must explore other options – but this does not mean simply squeezing yet more flights out of Heathrow.”
The report also claimed that high-speed rail alone would not be enough to replace domestic short haul flights.
Mr Godfrey-Arnold added: “We see huge environmental potential in high-speed rail and welcome Government’s commitment to improving connectivity, however encouraging the shift from air travel to new low carbon surface transport options like high-speed rail depends on its ability to compete with air travel on price, flexibility and connectivity, which is not always the case.
"If it cannot compete on these levels it won’t attract enough passengers to make it either cost or carbon efficient.”
He called for measures like the introduction of a carbon price with a floor, which could help curb demand for air travel by raising the price of flying, therefore making high-speed rail a potentially cheaper option.