Increasing UK Air Links Does Not Mean Neglecting Our Environmental Obligations
Action is needed to boost the UK’s air links and put growth on a sustainable long-term footing, but these decisions do not have to come at the expense of environmental commitments, according to a new CBI report.
Flying High, highlights that investments made by the aerospace and aviation industries in new technology are already having an impact on noise and greenhouse gas emissions. Noise is currently in decline at the UK’s major airports, while new aircraft are as much as four times more fuel-efficient than their equivalent in the 1960s.
The report demonstrates with new technologies already in the pipeline and greater collaboration between industry and government, the UK can meet projected demand growth while reducing noise and emissions.
It warns however that without urgent action from politicians to make key decisions on the future of the UK’s airport infrastructure, businesses would miss out on the new connections they need, severely hampering efforts to rebalance the economy towards trade and investment. CBI research shows that each and every additional flight to a high-growth market boosts trade by as much as £175,000, while almost half (49%) of businesses in the UK consider air links to emerging markets as a key consideration when choosing where to place their next investment.
To ensure the UK does not miss out, the CBI has urged all parties to commit to the findings of the Airports Commission’s final report on new runway capacity in the south-east when published in 2015, as well as taking action to improve ground connections to airports across the UK, and to safeguard the UK’s freight connectivity.
Nicola Walker, CBI Director for Business Environment, said:
“The environmental challenges of growing the UK’s air links are quite rightly a concern for the public, businesses and politicians alike. But this is not a question of green or growth – both can, and must, go hand-in-hand.
“With long-term future growth dependent on our ability to forge new links with emerging markets, there can be no more excuses for our politicians to hide behind.
“The wealth of evidence, both in the Airports Commission’s interim review and this report, highlights that further aviation capacity can be built while continuing to meet our obligations to communities and the environment. Politicians now need to commit to deliver the upgrades we need at airports across the country.”
The report highlights that in order to ensure aviation can support the UK’s trading ambitions, we need:
1. All parties to commit to act upon the findings of the Airports Commission’s final report when published in 2015, building new runway capacity in the south east.
2. To prioritise infrastructure upgrades to boost ground connections at all of the UK’s international gateway airports.
3. To ensure the needs of freight are reflected in the debate on new capacity and maintain the current night flights regime as a facilitator of trade.
On how industrial strategy can support the aviation and aerospace industries achieve their environmental objectives, Katja said:
“There are major industry improvements currently in the pipeline here in the UK that will allow this to happen – whether more sustainable biofuels, efficient engine technology, aerodynamic aircraft or smarter air traffic control.”
“We need continued investment from our world-beating aviation and aerospace companies, backed by a long-term industrial strategy, to drive forward global aviation sustainability, while delivering the air links our businesses need in order to grow.”
The report also emphasises that to support the UK’s industry to achieve sustainable aviation growth, we need:
1. To push for a global framework to create a global emissions market that provides the aviation sector with a platform to reach their 50% emissions reduction target by 2050.
2. Development of a cross-party consensus to push forward a long-term and consistent strategy for the aerospace sector providing the skills and finance needed for supply chains to thrive.
3. To provide a competitive environment for long-term innovation, supporting new technologies such as biofuels.
There are already a number of improvement underway in the aviation sector including:
On the ground…
Sustainability planning: Airports such as Gatwick and Heathrow are increasingly setting their own sustainability targets, including action to improve air quality for local communities, reduced waste from terminals and reduced operational noise.
Collaboration: By working together, airports, airlines and air traffic controllers continue to find new ways to reduce the impact of operations. At Manchester Airport, collaboration has led to airlines increasingly using terminal rather than on-board power while on the ground, delivering a 50% cut in CO2 emissions. With a 10% increase each year on aircraft using this approach at Manchester, and other airports following suit, the reductions quickly add up.
Reduced engine taxi: Airlines such as British Airways are increasingly using just one instead of two engines when moving between terminal and runway to save fuel. They estimate that this change alone has saved 20,000 tonnes of CO2 each year from their Gatwick and Heathrow operations alone.
On take-off and landing…
Continuous climb and descent: Aircraft often gain and lose altitude on take-off and landing step-by-step to maintain safe separation, however this requires additional fuel and creates noise as planes repeatedly rise and level out. As airspace management and technology has improved, continuous take-off and landing has become possible, delivering 1-5 decibel reductions in noise on the flight path.
Advanced navigation: Increasingly accurate navigation mean small regular alternations in aircraft routes can deliver big benefits in predictable noise respite. 2013 trials at Heathrow by NATS in partnership with residents’ group HACAN, whilst having some unintended consequences, delivered noise reduction to 100,000 people in South-East and East London.
In the air…
Sustainable fuels: By 2050, forecasts indicate sustainable fuels will offer a reduction of between 15% and 24% of UK CO2 emissions from aviation, with a number of UK airlines such as Virgin and British Airways already leading the way by investing in new jet-fuel plants.
Lighter aircraft: The use of composites rather than metallic components has rapidly increased, creating lighter aircraft. While in the 1990s just 8% of an average aircraft was made of composites, the forthcoming Airbus A350 will ratchet this up to as much as 50%.
Aerodynamics: Advanced materials combined with an increasingly intricate understanding of aerodynamics will significantly reduce drag, with concepts such as ‘blended wings’ already demonstrating an ability to reduce fuel consumption by 32% over current aircraft designs.