Shaping 2018

1st January 2018

by John Stewart

The essence of successful campaigning is to shape the future.  There will be a number of opportunities for aviation campaigners to do that in 2018.  It will be the year when crucial decisions will be made and pivotal policy positions set in train.

The most headline-making decision will be on a third runway at Heathrow.  Already it is the Government’s preferred option.  If Parliament backs it in a vote expected by the summer, it will become official Government policy.  The next step will be for Heathrow to begin the 2 – 3 year process of drawing up and consulting on the detailed plans before presenting them to a local planning inquiry for approval.

HACAN has long campaigned against a third runway and will continue to do so.  Our principle objection is this:  we feel that an extra 700 planes a day will only worsen the noise climate (despite any welcome improvements in aircraft technology and better operational procedures that may be on the way).  It will be particularly hard on areas – such as parts of Hammersmith, Chiswick, Brentford and Ealing – which have never had planes before.  Lives will be turned upside down and, for some people, it will never go back to the pre-plane days.  Already, according to the European Commission, 28% of people impacted by aircraft noise across Europe live under the Heathrow flight paths.  We feel that, whatever economic benefits a third runway may bring, the noise disbenefits are simply too great.

But opposing a third runway is not the same as arguing against the growth of aviation per se.  Aviation growth, for all its well-documented environmental and local downsides, will have significant worldwide benefits.  The aviation industry has an important role to play in improving connectivity between nations.  Better connectivity facilitates trade which in turn helps create prosperity.  And historically, it has been trade which has played a key role in opening up closed societies, breaking down taboos and increasing individual freedom.

While the long-awaited decision on the third runway will capture the headlines, it important that, as campaigners, we don’t let it overshadow our chance to shape other key decisions that will be made in 2018.

On January 17th, Heathrow will launch two public consultations to run in parallel over a 10 week period.  One will concern the impacts of a third runway; the other will be about the reorganisation of its flight paths.

While HACAN continues to oppose a third runway, if it does happen, we want the best possible deal for our members who will the people who will be living with the impact of the new runway.  We are determined to try to shape that deal.  We would of course prefer not to be in a position of trying to shape a deal before a final decision has been taken but that it the reality of where things are and it would be a dereliction of our duty to our members if we didn’t use every opportunity to get the best deal possible.

So, during the consultation, we will be putting forward and campaigning for tough conditions to be embedded in any recommendation the Government may put before Parliament for a third runway.

The six key HACAN conditions would want to see:

  • A tougher night flight regime than the 6½ hour night currently on offer
  • Guaranteed respite for all communities within 25 miles of Heathrow
  • A noise envelope that sets firm limits on noise and flight numbers
  • World class compensation
  • A Community Engagement Board
  • A fourth runway to be ruled out

 The conditions should be become part of primary legislation agreed by Parliament in order to provide the firmest guarantee possible that there will be no going back on them.

We will also seek to shape Heathrow’s flight paths consultation.

The airspace changes are not being driven by the third runway but by the introduction at airports across the world of new technology called Performance Based Navigation (PBN).  In essence, it means that aircraft will be guided more precisely as they land and take-off.  The norm will be flight paths along a few, predicable, concentrated routes.  This will allow more aircraft to use an airport, cut fuel costs for airlines, reduce CO2 emissions from each aircraft, improve the resilience of airports and probably cut the number of air traffic controllers required.

Performance Based Navigation is not, in my view, an optional process which any one airport can opt out of or any one community can successfully challenge. Hundreds of airports across the globe have already introduced it.  It has the backing of governments.  The aviation industry has spent huge sums of money on it.  In Europe the industry has invested 2.5 billion euros in PBN on which it expects to get a return of 4.4 billion euros.  And in America, it is estimated PBN improvements have accrued $1.6 billion of benefits since 2010 and it is expected that by 2030, the total benefits of PBN improvements will be $160.6 billion, at a cost of $35.8 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration and the aviation industry.

Opposing PBN is not a realistic option.  Our challenge as campaign groups is to shape it so it works for our communities.  HACAN’s well-known position is that PBN could work for communities if the precision technology is used to introduce a number of routes which are then rotated to provide predicable periods of respite.  It could be a positive benefit for communities from Lewisham to Reading who at present are being tormented by all-day flying.  Whatever system is finally introduced, it needs to be rooted in the principles of fairness and equity.

The other piece of emerging legislation which will be developed in 2018 will be the new Aviation White Paper being put together by the Department for Transport.  It is likely to enshrine in legislation some of the positives which were outlined in the Government’s Airspace Policy, published towards the end of 2017: more realistic metrics for measuring noise annoyance; the recognition of the importance of respite; the establishment of an Independent Noise Authority (expected to happen this April).  These are measures HACAN campaigned hard for over many years.  We will be joining other organisations like the Airports Community Forum to press for tough measures to cut noise and for airport communities to have a stronger voice in decision-making to be included in the White Paper.

But the consultation last year on the vision behind the White Paper was based on a huge predicted growth in passenger numbers over the coming decades.  As indicated above, aviation growth can bring benefits.  But future growth, unless regulated in some way, could overwhelm us.  When the 90% or so of the world’s population who have never flown start to do so, some controls will probably become inevitable.  A fair fiscal system would be the most effective form of control.  It needs to be a graduated system where those who fly most frequently – and those who travel the greatest distance – pay the most.  Air Passenger Duty, which raises £3.2 billion a year for the Exchequer, includes a distance element.  The much-discussed Frequent Flyers Levy – – bases the tax paid on the number of trips made in a year.

But any tax needs to work for the industry as well.  There is a strong argument for at least a proportion of the money raised to be earmarked for research and development into quieter, cleaner aircraft.  We need an ‘air pricing’ system that will enhance the effectiveness and performance of the aviation industry; that recognizes its value in facilitating trade, increasing prosperity and connecting communities; that is focused on creating a quieter, cleaner industry that can do its job without the environmental barriers it currently faces.  It may mean less growth but it could well mean smarter growth.  In 2008 HACAN will be working with its fellow campaign groups in Europe to try and put the idea of smart air pricing on the agenda.

Finally – and as important as anything else for people living with the noise right now – in 2018 we will press for immediate improvements to the current noise climate around Heathrow.  Early in the New Year we will publish a report which will suggest that, while most flight paths have not changed in recent years, there has been more concentration of aircraft both of landing and take-off.  This needn’t wait until new flight paths are in place to get sorted.  We will suggest it is something with air traffic control could deal with in the short-term.

We will continue to defend the runway alternation enjoyed by many people in West London.  And back the trials of slightly steeper approaches being carried out by Heathrow.  And back the research being carried out into the impact of steeper departures.  We will continue to play an active role in bodies such as Heathrow’s Community Noise Forum and the Community Engagement Board (which will incorporate the Heathrow Consultative Committee).

2018 is the year when decisions will be taken that will affect people living under Heathrow’s flight paths for decades to come.    It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us as campaigners influence those decisions.  We know the problems.  Let’s go in positively and help shape the solutions.

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