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About us

Stop Bristol Airport Expansion! (SBAE) is an alliance comprised of the following groups:

cpreBristol Friends of the Earth

Read more about the SBAE alliance

All content © Stop Bristol Airport Expansion, 2009.

 

100 months

Your questions answered

Some Basic Questions:

Who is Stop Bristol Airport Expansion?

What can I do to help?

What is BIA planning to do?

What is the Government doing?

Isn't expansion good for the economy?

But doesn't it create lots of jobs?

Isn't it good for business travellers?

Doesn't it bring in a lot of tax revenue?

How does it impact climate change?

How do I complain about the noise of planes flying to and from BIA?

More detail:

In what way does aviation receive tax subsidies?

How does aviation cause a tourism deficit?

What should we do instead of expansion?

Isn't it more fuel efficient than cars?

Aren't planes getting more efficient?

Surely offsetting will sort this out?

Surely emissions trading will sort this out?

Isn't it better to use a local airport?

Further Questions:

What is the alternative to flying?

If aviation is taxed won't this stop poor people flying?

Will expansion harm the countryside more widely?

What are externalised costs?

What did the recent Oxford (Cairns) report say?

What did the Stern report say?

What about other fuels?

But does it not bring in lots of foreign investment?

References and further reading

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Your Question:

Who is Stop Bristol Airport Expansion?

SBAE is an alliance of Friends of the Earth local groups (FoE) , the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), the Parish Councils' Airport Association (PCAA) and many concerned individuals. It was formed in 2005 to publicise the true impacts of the proposed airport expansion, and to oppose Bristol International Airport as it attempts to progress its misguided plans for expansion.

If you find the arguments presented here persuasive, or at least worrying, please help us to fight this misguided expansion.

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What can I do to help?

  1. If you are a North Somerset resident, please contact your councillor to urge him/her to reject the Master Plan - he/she will vote on it sometime in the new year and it is crucially important that it is rejected by the council as this decision will underpin all future planning applications made bby the airport.

    The Strategic Planning and Economic Development (SPED) panel has recommended that the council undertake comprehensive independent analysis of the implications of expansion. Please make sure the council follows these recommendations in full.
    How to contact the key individuals
  2. you can register with us so that we can keep you up to date with the planning process and further opportunities to make your voice heard
  3. you can help to distribute leaflets in you neighbourhood or workplace so that we can reach more people, contact us here
  4. you can donate some money to help cover the considerable expenses it takes to run this campaign
  5. you can come to meetings in Bristol, Bath or North Somerset
  6. you can write to your MP and councillor to demand that they support our campaign. Please note that Liam Fox, Jon Penrose, Stephen Williams and Don Foster already oppose the airport expansion, but messages of support for their position would be appreciated. Email you MP from this website
  7. you can write to the Secretary of State for Transport and demand that the Government rethinks its policy of airport expansion in the light of the climate change it will cause and the dubiousness of the economic benefits – go to www.airportwatch.org.uk/rethink

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What is BIA planning to do?

In 2003 the Government published the Air Transport White Paper (ATWP) (see below), this called for all airports to draw up master plans for their development until 2030, with support for particular developments. BIA published its first Draft Master Plan in 2005, and consulted upon this, and published its final Master Plan in November 2006. The consultation on this runs until 22nd December 2006.

In 2004 BIA handled 4.5 million passengers, and is planning to handle 9 million by 2015 and 12.5 million by 2030. This means that in 2004 53000 plane movements occurred, and by 2030 this will more than double to 108000.

Currently there is an average of 11 plane movements per hour and this will grow to 17 by 2015, or one every 3.5 minutes.

Of these flights, up to 10 per day will be wide-bodied jets by 2030 – much larger than anything BIA currently handles.

It will not substantially reduce the proportion of passengers arriving by car, and thus far more traffic will be on the narrow local roads.

It will massively increase parking, with some of this in a double decked car park on the current site but a substantial amount will be level site car parking on the green fields to the South of the airport – visible for miles around.

Its climate changing emissions will grow from 430000 tonnes of CO2 (more than all the road transport in Bristol) to 730000 tonnes by 2019 – at the same time all the rest of society is trying to cut emissions.

Its drain on the regional tourism economy will spiral – putting at risk the single largest industry in the South West, with around 8% of all jobs, and only guarantee to create a relatively small number of jobs local to the airport.

It will build a hotel on the site – which increases the amount of parking required to the South and will take away business from many local hotels, restaurants and B&Bs.

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What is the Government doing?

In 2003 the Government published “The Future of Air Transport” White Paper (ATWP) which set forth their vision for “sustainable growth” in aviation. Despite their protestations that this took a balanced position between environmental and economic issues, in fact the expected growth supported by the Government is very similar to that shown assuming no constraints are placed on aviation (e.g. no increase in taxes, no shortage of airport capacity etc). This aims for passengers to grow from 180 million passengers per year in 2004 to 500 million by 2030. Plans already submitted by airports make this target seem like an underestimate.

The government based this paper on assumptions that the price of flying would continue to fall by 1% or more per year until 2030, and they still insist this is true even though oil has risen from $25 per barrel in 2003 to over $60 today. It also assumes that although aviation may be brought under some form of emissions trading, that the costs of this do not substantially increase the cost of flying. No proposals were included to constrain demand, or to focus on economically beneficial flights (e.g. to business locations) rather than encouraging the rapid growth in low cost leisure flights.

This white paper is due to be reviewed in December and SBAE believe that this should be a “rethink” rather than a “progress review”. See “how to help”

The Government has said a lot of worthy things about cutting emissions, but currently refuses to accept shorter term targets than “60% cut by 2050”, refuses to recognise that expanding aviation will compromise cuts made in other sectors, refuses to increase taxation on aviation. It is time that they turn words into actions and realise that aviation growth must be constrained.

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Isn't expansion good for the economy?

BIA claims to be good for the economy, but in fact there are many ways it costs the economy large amounts of money:

  1. tax subsidies
  2. tourism deficit
  3. externalised costs
  4. jobs
  5. inward investment

There has been no in depth independent analysis of the economic benefits to the region of expanding the airport performed for the Government. Our own analysis performed by Ecologica shows many ways in which the expansion will harm the economy. The Government admitted no analysis had been done, and had only been extrapolated from work done for the South East – and even there most of the “benefits” were actually time savings 30 years in the future for passengers who don't currently use those airports. This is not an economic benefit that increases the wealth of the country, increases tax revenue that can be spent on health, public transport etc, and if it just means more money can be spent abroad by British tourists then it is to the positive detriment to the economy.

For more details see references.

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But doesn't it create lots of jobs?

Historically BIA has created around 500 jobs per million extra passengers, but this rate is dropping. BIA currently directly employs around 200 staff, which has remained steady since the year 2000, despite passenger numbers doubling since then. Employed by contractors and BIA there are around 2300 staff (full-time equivalent jobs) in total.

Many of the envisaged extra staff will be in menial, low-paid jobs with anti-social shift hours. As these are generally for functions put out to tender, and airlines are constantly trying to cut costs, the wages paid are constantly under pressure. This means many of the new jobs will be at or near the legal minimum wage (around £9000 per year). This is not attractive to many people living in the deprived wards of South Bristol because the jobs do not pay enough to compensate for the hours, awkwardness of accessing the airport and the difficulty of arranging childcare or second jobs around the hours. It has lead to a significant influx of Eastern European migrant workers, which increases the pressures on local housing and services, without helping to relieve local unemployment.

It has also been stated that several existing sectors are likely to be cut, for instance check-in may be fully automated within 5 years and the low-cost airlines are penalising the use of hold-baggage, hence baggage handling is also under threat.

The tourism deficit will be losing jobs from elsewhere in the South West tourism industry and other service sectors, e.g. more weekends are being spent abroad and less gardening hence less money will be spent at garden centres.

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Isn't it good for business travellers?

Currently around 20% of passengers are on business rather than leisure visits. This proportion is likely to drop with expansion as this has been targeted at leisure destinations. Business use could significantly increase without any increase in flights by changing the flight schedule to give more reliable services to business destinations and less frequent flights to leisure ones. Business travellers are not attracted by low price flights but by reliable services to business destinations where they can avoid unnecessary overnight stays.

Many high-tech businesses in the region are not serviced by the airport because their customers are too remote – in the Far East and the West coast of America. It makes much more sense for these travellers to use Heathrow to reach those locations directly rather than flying from BIA to another hub airport and changing planes. Using Heathrow they have a choice of reliable flights to those destinations.

If the cost of aviation was increased, for instance through an increase in Air Passenger Duty, this would have very little impact on business travellers but would decrease the use of aviation for more frivolous leisure flights – thus freeing up capacity for business travel that contributes to the UK economy. Business travel can also often be avoided through use of phone and video conferencing and the internet, thus saving considerably on the costs of travel and the time lost during travel.

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Doesn't it bring in a lot of tax revenue?

Aviation fuel bears no duty, and there is no VAT on the fuel or tickets. Aviation is also able to claim back VAT even when it has not paid any. The major taxes aviation pays are Air Passenger Duty and Corporation Tax. Across the UK, the lack of fuel duty and VAT is worth around £10bn per year, whereas APD brings in less than £1bn per year. Airlines and airports are very good at finding ways to offset their profits so that they pay very little Corporation Tax.

BIA and its passengers pay roughly the following taxes each year:

APD - £22.5m

duty and VAT- £0 (in fact relative to petrol this is a subsidy of around £70m)

business rates - £1.3m

corporation tax - £0.96m

IE the total amount of money paid in tax relative to a similar use of fuel on the ground is -£45m i.e. a massive subsidy, amounting to almost £10 per passenger!)

At the same time that BIA only paid £0.96m in corporation tax, it paid to its shareholders a dividend of £48.3m. These shareholders are Spanish and Australian, i.e. again this money is leaving the UK economy.

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How does it impact climate change?

Aviation burns kerosene (paraffin) as a fuel. This releases carbon dioxide, water vapour and various other pollutants (methane, oxides of nitrogen etc). These are released during take off, landing and high in the atmosphere during cruising. The emissions produced high in the atmosphere (even the water!) act as greenhouse gases trapping heat in and warming the atmosphere. This means that the effect is far higher than burning the fuel at ground level and more than the carbon dioxide alone would imply – at least 90% more. The Cairns report suggests that over a 20 year period the enhanced effect is roughly 3.7 times that of the CO2 alone, falling to 1.7 times over 100 years. The current multiplier being recommended by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is 1.9 times, but this excludes cirrus clouds not because they have no effect but because no one is certain how big that effect is. Some studies suggest that these clouds may more than double the effect.

From BIA's own calculations, the flights in 2005 produced 430000 tonnes of CO2, and this will grow to 730000 tonnes by 2019.

According to DEFRA, the traffic emissions for the whole of the City of Bristol are 390000 tonnes per year – so BIA already does more damage to the climate than the whole of Bristol's traffic. When you take into account the high altitude effects, it already produces more than twice the effect of all of Bristol's traffic.

By 2019, if a high altitude multiplier of 1.9 is applied, BIA's emissions will be equivalent to 1.387 million tonnes of CO2, more than the current emissions of the whole of B&NES (1.1 million tonnes), and almost the same as the current emissions of North Somerset (1.5 million tonnes). Bristol, B&NES and North Somerset councils are all committed to cutting their own emissions and those in their areas by 60% by 2050, and much of these cuts will be cancelled out by the growth in emissions by BIA.

BIA likes to compare its emissions with the whole of the South West – but this is unfair for several reasons:

  1. most of its passengers come from the old Avon area, very few come from Cornwall, South Devon etc, so this comparison should be performed according to the origin of domestic users
  2. there are several other airports in the South West, all planning to grow massively
  3. they ignore the multiplier due to emissions high in the atmosphere
  4. they try to compare local emissions with those that happen only during take-off and landing – and ignore the huge amount emitted during flight
  5. they use old and inaccurate figures – for instance Bristol has now agreed that the DEFRA method for calculating traffic emissions is more accurate and reasonable than the method originally used to calculate a very much higher figure – but BIA insist on using the old inaccurate higher figure because it makes their own emissions look smaller

BIA state that their current emissions are 0.4% of those from the South West, but according to DEFRA the total for the South West is 40.972m tonnes, so 430k tonnes is actually 1.04% of that figure. If the high altitude effects are taking into account this is 2%.

BIA state that by 2019 their emissions will only be 0.7% of the South West, but assuming the South West emissions do not grow by that time the figure will in fact be 1.78% and taking into account high altitude effects this is 3.4%.

But over this period all areas are meant to be making cuts in line with the Government target for 2050, so assuming this means cuts of around 3% per year from 2010 (24% cut by 2019) the emissions of the South West should have fallen to 31.1m tonnes, hence BIA's raw CO2 will be 2.3% of the total, and its effect will be 4.5% if the total.

If you analyse emissions by where the passengers live, this gives you the increase in a persons emissions due to using BIA (rather than not flying). If this is done for the areas of the South West that deliver 85% of BIA's passengers, that flying from BIA increases its customers' CO2 emissions by 27%. If the high altitude effects are included, this becomes a 51% increase it its customers climate footprint.

It is clear that allowing BIA to expand as planned will significantly reduce the effectiveness of expensive reductions in emissions being made in all other sectors of society in the South West.

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How do I complain about the noise of planes flying to and from BIA?

Read our noise page »

More detail:

In what way does aviation receive tax subsidies?

Unlike fuel for cars, the fuel used by planes does not bear any duty or VAT. This means aviation fuel is priced around 20p per litre at the same time that petrol is priced around 90p per litre. Aviation also receives VAT refunds although it pays no VAT, it gains significantly through duty free sales. There is no VAT charged on aircraft purchases – the largest capital cost of airlines.

In return for this, the largest tax levied on aviation is Air Passenger Duty. This raises less than £1bn per year, and falling, despite ever increasing passengers.

Overall this means aviation receives a £9bn tax subsidy.

This is the main reason airfares are unfairly low and why many people choose to fly abroad rather than drive to holidays in the UK, even for short breaks.

The airlines operating from BIA receive a tax break on the fuel they use of around £73m each year, relative to the cost of the same volume of petrol used by private motorists.

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How does aviation cause a tourism deficit?

In 2004, British tourists spent around £30bn abroad, and overseas visitors spent around £13bn here – a deficit of £17bn per year (see Travel Trends) Visitors in both cases spend about the same amount per visit, the deficit is caused by there being far more outbound tourists than inbound ones. This deficit has grown in parallel with the growth in low price scheduled flights since the mid 1990's – the amount of tourists using ferries and the channel tunnel has not changed very much in that time.

This deficit is more than the whole NHS annual capital budget.

The London airports contribute less to this deficit due to most inbound tourists visiting London. The deficit is largely caused by regional airports. BIA causes around £500m per year of the UK tourism deficit, and around £60m-£80m of this is lost from the South West region – costing jobs in this tourist region.

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What should we do instead of expansion?

There are several ways in which to rebalance the economic and environmental issues caused by aviation:

  1. raise Air Passenger Duty (APD) to reflect the environmental costs of flying and to discourage and increasing reliance on aviation for leisure activities. This change could be made almost overnight.
  2. change APD to be on a planes rather than passengers – to encourage the planes to be fuller, and charge higher rates for less efficient / more pollution planes. This would take longer to implement, but is still fairly easy to do
  3. change landing charges to reflect the loading of the planes and their efficiency, this would have a similar effect to (2) but might be quicker to implement
  4. charge duty on aviation fuel – this would encourage more efficient use of the fuel but would be harder to implement on international flights
  5. charge VAT on tickets and other aspects of air transport – this would again be fairly quick to implement but would have little impact because ticket prices are too low, and would also have no way to reflect more efficient flights
  6. include aviation in emissions trading – this will take longer to implement and will only work if it is a “closed market” where aviation cannot buy permits more easily than other industries (due to its tax advantages).

All of these measures try to redress the unfair tax advantage that aviation has, the revenue raised from this could be used to reduce other forms of taxation, or to fund expansion of green industries such as renewable energy generation and high speed rail, or to offset the emissions of the flights. It will also gave the effect of increasing the proportion of business flights and decreasing the proportion of outbound tourism flights, thus reducing the tourism deficit and possibly increasing the business benefits.

In addition to this, capping the rate of expansion of airports – or even freezing expansion altogether, would allow for the emissions from aviation to fall over time as more efficient planes and practices are phased in. Without this, these improvements in efficiency will only slightly reduce the massive increase in emissions that expansion implies.

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Isn't it more fuel efficient than cars?

Airlines claim that flying is the most fuel efficient way to travel, but this is not strictly true, nor is it the whole picture. They compare the fuel use of a car with that of a plane, but tend to use a high consumption car with a single passenger versus the most efficient plane fully loaded. The fuel consumption of a car does not go up much with more passengers (as long as its tyres are at the correct pressure), that of a plane does increase with load during take-off and landing but much less so during cruising. Planes are far more efficient whilst cruising than during take-off so the longer the flight the better the figures look. But most flights are “short haul” and the take-off is a very significant element of the fuel consumption.

The average fuel consumption of a new car is currently 9.6 litres per 100km (with the best cars being 5.4 litres per 100 km). If such a car carried 4 people this makes 2.4 litres of fuel per 100 passenger km. The average fuel consumption for flights in the US is around 4.4 litres per 100 passenger km. So even on this measure it is obvious that planes are not remarkably more efficient than cars. Take-off accounts for a large amount of fuel use, perhaps 20-30% for short haul flights, and this increases the average fuel consumption for these flights considerably.

It is also not relevant to compare with cars – the comparison should be made with trains instead. The typical consumption for a train is 1.25 litres per 100 passenger km – and can be far better than this with more modern trains and tracks and high occupancy. Many of the short-haul flights within the UK and Europe can realistically be replaced with trains, and when the check-in, baggage collection and transfer times are taken into account – train journeys can often be quicker than the equivalent flights.

Fuel consumption is not the whole picture – because planes fly high in the atmosphere it is not just the carbon dioxide they emit that contributes to climate change. These other gases increase the effect of the fuel use by 2 or more times. Overall this makes flying 7 to 10 times worse for the environment than using a train. For more see Climate Train

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Aren't planes getting more efficient?

Planes designs are getting slowly more fuel efficient – due to better engines, drag coefficient and lighter materials. But the rate of improvement is very slow, around 1% per year. Most improvement comes on the introduction of a radically new design, for instance the A380 (first commercial flight 2007?) is 12% more efficient than the 747-400 (first commercial flight1989), i.e. 12% improvement in 18 years. Many of these newer designs are irrelevant to BIA as they are too big to use the airport. (See “Fuel Efficiency of commercial aircraft”)

Both Ryanair and Easyjet have relatively new (and “efficient”) fleets and are unlikely to retire these planes for a very long time. The design life for new planes is over 30 years and an airline needs to fly planes for a very large fraction of this time to afford to buy them. This means that it is unlikely that technical improvements will be deployed even at a 1% rate. Ryanair uses a single design for its whole fleet in order to keep costs down, this means it is even less likely to adopt newer and more efficient designs even when they are available.

Jet aircraft are only now reaching the level of efficiencies that propeller aircraft had in the early 1960's – the difference being that jets are larger, faster and have a longer range, meaning more people can fly further and more often – all of which increase emissions.

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Surely offsetting will sort this out?

Airlines suggest that passengers concerned about their emissions might like to “offset” them by paying a small charge. The idea is that the charge will pay for a project (often in the developing world) to reduce emissions to compensate for the emissions of the flight. Many offsetting schemes rely on the planting of trees, but there are many things wrong with this approach:

  1. it does not comply with the Gold Standard for carbon neutral development
  2. there is no guarantee that the trees will absorb the same amount of emissions, or that the trees will not be felled or burnt and end up releasing the carbon again
  3. tree planting schemes aim to capture the emissions over a long period, for instance 50 years. But this means that if you take an annual ski trip and offset it using this form of scheme, that the total emissions accumulate over a significant period rather than be cancelled out each year. For offsetting to be meaningful it should aim to cancel out emissions in the same year that they occur – but this would make the cost of offsetting look significantly higher than the “£5 per flight” that is currently offered – i.e. it would be closer to reflecting the true environmental costs
  4. renewable energy projects funded by offsetting are very worthy, but instead of them reducing total emissions (by replacing dirtier forms of power generation) they are just allowing aviation emissions to grow.

All unavoidable flights should be offset in compliance with the Gold Standard, but as far as possible flying should be avoided in favour of other less environmentally damaging forms of travel, electronic communications or more local choice of destination.

Read the joint statement on carbon offsets by FoE, Greenpeace and WWF

Read more about the Gold Standard

Read AirportWatch's recommendations for carbon offsetting

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Surely emissions trading will sort this out?

Both the Government and the aviation industry are in favour of massive expansion in aviation (growing from 200 million passengers per year in 2005 to 500 million in 2030) and including aviation inside the European Trading System (ETS) for greenhouse gas emissions. The ETS currently covers the dirtier industries (e.g. coal fired power generation) and causes those industries to buy permits to emit pollution at a cost of around £9 per tonne currently. The idea is that over time the number of permits will reduce and hence the cost will go up and this will cause those industries to get more efficient or swap over to more renewable technologies. It also allows those industries to buy permits from clean sectors for instance wind farms create credits, and this helps to improve the economics of those cleaner sectors.

However, it is not currently clear that this system is actually delivering cuts in emissions – rather it has generated a huge trade in dubious credits and the price of permits is so low that it does not act as a significant incentive to change. To make this system work requires a much tighter control on permits and credits, a lower supply overall and hence higher prices – it is not clear if and when this will occur.

The aviation industry wants to be included in this system but ONLY for its increase in emissions after it joins (i.e. not its very significant current emissions, just the extra ones). It has also delayed the process of joining so that it can expand massively first – i.e. the amount it plans on being charged for is reducing with each passing year. It also wants to be in the same marketplace as other sectors. Because aviation is highly profitable due to advantageous tax treatment it will be far better placed to buy permits than other industries – hence its success in buying permits will cause the costs to all other sectors of the economy to rise.

If the number of permits is strictly limited then this may mean that other sectors will not be able to get sufficient permits for their operations and this will force them to make huge investments to change to other energy sources OR to go out of business.

If aviation is to be allowed into the ETS as its main form of emissions control, then it should have a separately allocated set of permits, should have to pay for its whole emissions not just the extra ones after joining, and should have a level tax regime with other industries to avoid inequitable allocation of permits.

And in the meantime, because this will not happen until 2012 at the earliest, the tax subsidy should be revised to make ticket prices reflect environmental costs.

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Isn't it better to use a local airport?

It is often argued that it is better to fly from a local airport rather than create emissions driving to Heathrow, but this argument contains a few errors:

  1. because the climate change effect of car driving is less per passenger kilometre than flying, for any destinations east of Bristol, it is better to drive eastwards as far as possible before flying – so less miles are flown
  2. expansion of BIA will not reduce flights from Heathrow – in fact all UK airports are aiming to massively increase passengers and flights, and increasing local capacity will just increase total flights, not shift them from other airports
  3. the emissions produced reaching Heathrow, say, are far lower than the emissions from a flight, so it is disingenuous to have a massive increase in total flights to save this small fraction from the car journeys
  4. many low cost flights from regional airports fly to airports that are remote from the actual destination the passenger is trying to reach – so even if you save car journey at the UK end you may increase transfer emissions at the other end
  5. public transport links to Heathrow and other London airports are often better than the links to regional airports, so you may not even need to drive to those airports
  6. If the final destination is not directly reachable from BIA then this means flying first to a intermediate hub, for instance Amsterdam Schiphol, not only may this add extra flying miles (if the hub does not lie on a direct line with the final destination) but also doubles the number of take-offs and landings, greatly increasing the emissions. It is far better to fly direct from another airport in these circumstances.

It is of no environmental benefit to expand regional airports, especially when this means an increase in total flights and emissions. It would be better to discourage short haul flights that are filling up Heathrow (in favour of high speed rail, video conferencing and holidays in the UK) so that the capacity can be used for longer flights to avoid use of intermediate hubs and avoid expanding all regional airports.

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Further Questions:

What is the alternative to flying?

The major growth in flying that is causing expansion is in short haul low cost flights, driven by leisure purposes rather than business, and most of this is for short holidays and not for visits to relatives etc. The alternatives to this include:

  1. travel by train or coach rather than plane – particularly for journeys within this country, even a fully loaded car is more efficient and less damaging to the climate than flying – see www.seat61.com for help in planning you journey
  2. travel by ferry and/or high speed train for journeys to Europe – not only is this better for the environment but you get to see more of the countryside in between and can travel in a more relaxed atmosphere. For skiing destinations consider using the Snow Train which offers not only an extra half days skiing (due to better arrival and departure times and more direct access) but also has a disco and bar etc to entertain you on the way
  3. take less but longer breaks – instead of taking 7 weekend city breaks, why not treat yourself to a fortnight in one place. This is far better for the environment as you save 12 flights, and you may well save yourself money with discounts for longer stays
  4. choose to holiday in this country rather than abroad – have you tried city breaks in Bath, York, Wells, Shrewsbury, London etc etc? Have you tried taking a cottage in the countryside for a weekend? Have you tried a luxury hotel in an old stately home? See “Special Places to Stay” for more ideas. This will benefit both the environment and the economy, and you might well find it a lot less stressful than flying, and shorter journey times so more time to relax.

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If aviation is taxed won't this stop poor people flying?

The vast majority of passengers are from the higher paid social groups (A,B,C1). Nationally only 12.5% of all passengers come from households with incomes below £14374 per year, and in fact this proportion has shrunk from 16.1% in 2000 despite the average price of flights falling over that period.

In fact the proportion of people in the lower paid groups who never fly is very high – 74% of the long term unemployed, and 56% of those in routine jobs never fly. In contrast only 21% of those in higher managerial or professional jobs never fly, and 46% of them make trips by air more than 3 times per year. It is only the lowest paid groups that are flying less now than they were in 2000.

The cost of the flight is not the determining factor here – it is the cost of transport to and from the airport, cost of hotels and food abroad etc that make it hard for the poor to take advantage in the boom in flying. They also often have little discretion of times for leave and cannot flit away at the weekend, unlike office workers on more flexible working arrangements and with higher salaries.

The majority of airport expansion will benefit those who can take advantage of “city breaks” on low-cost scheduled services – it will not benefit those whose only flights are for a two week break in the summer. Increasing the cost of fuel or Air Passenger Duty will significantly increase the cost of cheap scheduled flights but will not make a very large difference to the cost of a summer package holiday. This means it will help to discourage the growth in frivolous leisure flights but not penalise the poor sections of society on their summer holidays.

For more see the Cairns report

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Will expansion harm the countryside more widely?

Increasing passengers without a massive investment in public transport will mean a similar rise in passenger traffic in cars. This will put pressure on rural roads for miles around, further disrupting life for villages on those roads. It will also lead to pressure for new or expanded roads in the area, damaging the character of the countryside.

The increased car parking to the South will be visible from miles away, even in protected areas of the Mendips. This will mean sunlight glinting off car windows (visible from a long way away given the Southern aspect) and also light pollution at night from car park illumination.

Increased flights will mean more noise (more frequent noise at least) for an ever growing rural area.

Inevitably more support services will grow up around the airport and take more land for warehouses, hotels etc

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What are externalised costs?

Airports claim to pay for all their infrastructure, but this is far from the truth. They rarely pay for they road and rail provision required to deliver passengers to them, they do not pay for the congestion that the extra traffic causes on existing roads.

They also do not pay for many other costs they inflict upon others, for instance many of their neighbours who need to increase sound insulation to make life bearable, or any loss in house value caused to areas increasingly affected by noise and traffic nearby. They also do not pay for improvements to water works they use because they are rated as “domestic” customers, hence this cost is passed on to all other customers of the water companies.

These external costs amount to millions of pounds that other people have to pay because of the operations of the airports.

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What did the recent Oxford report (the Cairns Report) say?

A report was recently published by the Environmental Change Institute of Oxford University (dubbed the Cairns report). Here we summarise the main relevant points, the full report can be found here

Policy

"The report concludes that the Government will need to explore a policy of managing
demand for air travel. This is likely to include ...a change in strategic policy to give a presumption
against the expansion of UK airport capacity"

Environment

"even at the lower end of the forecast range, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation are set to reach 17 million tonnes of carbon (MtC) by 2050. The higher end of the range is 44 MtC. Meanwhile, the UK is attempting to limit the carbon emissions of all its activities to 65 MtC by this date. This means that,  in order to offset aviation’s emissions, all other sectors of the UK economy would need to reduce their emissions by 71%–87% instead of the currently planned 60% from 1990 levels. There is no sign that this can or will happen: the existing 60% target is already extremely challenging."

Economics

"the indication is that the majority of the growth in aviation has occurred because richer people are flying more often.

For tourism, spending by UK residents abroad is currently greater, and is increasing faster, than spending by overseas visitors in the UK.

The main impact from a rise in the cost of air travel would be on leisure rather than business travel.

The relationship between GDP and flying is not direct...the argument that a particular level of flying is an inevitable consequence or determinant of a given level of GDP – and is impervious to policy intervention – cannot be sustained.

Charges are ...higher at regional airports than at congested South East ones, adding to regional economic imbalances.

In general, then, a policy of demand restraint in aviation could potentially bring some economic benefits for the UK, for example, by helping to rebalance the tourism deficit, by generating public revenue and by reducing the negative impacts from the growth in flying on competing sectors. The economic case for such an approach is worthy of detailed consideration."

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What did the Stern report say?

In November 2006 Sir Nicholas Stern published the report he had been commissioned to work on by HM Treasury.

For the full report see here.

Here are some excerpts from the summary and elsewhere:

“Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.

In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

The investment that takes place in the next 10-20 years will have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next. Our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.

So prompt and strong action is clearly warranted. Because climate change is a global problem, the response to it must be international. It must be based on a shared vision of long-term goals and agreement on frameworks that will accelerate action over the next decade, and it must build on mutually reinforcing approaches at national, regional and international level.

If no action is taken to reduce emissions, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could reach double its pre-industrial level as early as 2035, virtually committing us to a global average temperature rise of over 2°C. In the longer term, there would be more than a 50% chance that the temperature rise would exceed 5°C. This rise would be very dangerous indeed; it is equivalent to the change in average temperatures from the last ice age to today. Such a radical change in the physical geography of the world must lead to major changes in the human geography where people live and how they live their lives.

Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen, and it interacts with other market imperfections. Three elements of policy are required for an effective global response. The first is the pricing of carbon, implemented through tax, trading or regulation. The second is policy to support innovation and the deployment of low-carbon technologies. And the third is action to remove barriers to energy efficiency, and to inform, educate and persuade individuals about what they can do to respond to climate change.

Broadening participation [in emissions trading] to other major industrial sectors, and to sectors such as aviation, would help deepen the market, and increased use of auctioning would promote efficiency.

CO2 emissions from aviation are expected to grow by over three-fold in the period to 2050, making it among the fastest growing sectors. After taking account of the additional global warming effects of aviation emissions, aviation is expected to account for 5% of the total warming effect (radiative forcing) in 2050.

Aviation is unlikely to see technology breakthroughs, but there is potential for efficiency savings.

Aviation faces some difficult challenges. Whilst there is potential for incremental improvements in efficiency to continue, more radical options for emissions cuts are very limited. The international nature of aviation also makes the choice of carbon pricing instrument complex. Internationally coordinated taxes are difficult to implement, since it is contrary to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules to levy fuel tax on fuel carried on international services. The majority of the many bilateral air service agreements that regulate international air services also forbid taxation of fuel taken on board.

Partly for this reason, levels of taxation in the aviation sector globally are currently low relative to road transport fuel taxes. This contributes to congestion and capacity limits at airports – a form of rationing, which is an inefficient way of regulating demand.

While either tax or trading would, in principle, be effective ways to price emissions from this sector, the choice of tax, trading or other instruments is likely to be driven as much by political viability as by the economics. Chapter 22 will discuss further the issues of international coordination of policy in this area (as well as in shipping, which faces similar issues). A lack of international co-ordination could lead to serious carbon leakage issues, as aircraft would have incentives to fuel up in countries without a carbon price in place.

The level of the carbon price faced by aviation should reflect the full contribution of emissions from aviation to climate change. As outlined in Box 15.6, the impact of aviation is two to four times higher than the impact of the CO2 emissions alone. This should be taken into account, either through the design of a tax or trading scheme, through both in tandem, or by using additional complementary measures.

Box 15.6 The impact of aviation on climate change

Aviation CO2 emissions currently account for 0.7 Gt CO2 (1.6% of global GHG emissions). However the impact of aviation on climate change is greater than these figures suggest because of other gases released by aircraft and their effects at high altitude. For example, water vapour emitted at high altitude often triggers the formation of condensation trails, which tend to warm the earth’s surface. There is also a highly uncertain global warming effect from cirrus clouds (clouds of ice crystals) that can be created by aircraft.

In 2050 under ‘business as usual’ projections, CO2 emissions from aviation would represent 2.5% of global GHG emissions. However taking into account the non-CO2 effects of aviation would mean that it would account for around 5% of the total warming effect (radiative forcing) in 2050.

The uncertainties over the overall impact of aviation on climate change mean that there is currently no internationally recognised method of converting CO2 emissions into the full CO2 equivalent quantity.

In other sectors, such as aviation where weight and safety are prominent concerns, early commercial development is unlikely to take place and will be dependent on development in other areas first. The capital stock in the aviation, maritime and rail sectors (ships, planes and trains) lasts several times longer than road vehicles so this may result in a slower rate of take-up of alternative technologies.

In the aviation sector improved air traffic management and reduced weight, through the use of alternative and advanced materials, can add to continued improvements in the efficiency of existing technologies.

Carbon pricing and other measures should be extended to international aviation and shipping.”

We believe that the Stern report vindicates the position that not only should aviation pay taxes that reflect the environmental costs it causes and also makes alternatives look more economically attractive, but also there is no great hope for a technological fix to aviation and therefore it makes no sense to allow it to grow massively. And even if aircraft designs become more efficient it will take a long time before this makes a significant difference to emissions because of the long lifetime of aircraft already being used.

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What about other fuels?

It is highly unlikely that planes will start to use a radically different fuel any time soon. Even if a hydrogen engine was possible, this would not solve all problems as the water emitted is a greenhouse gas at the high altitudes where the planes fly – about as bad as CO2!

If biofuels were used, this still would not be “carbon neutral” because the emissions at high altitude have far more effect than the same amount of CO2 emitted at ground level – hence even if that CO2 is absorbed by plants and turned into biofuel for planes this would not make flying free of environmental costs (but it would be better). There are also grave doubts about where such fuel plants would be grown and the conflicts this might have with food agriculture and biodiversity.

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But does it not bring in lots of foreign investment?

There is little evidence that the presence of BIA brings in foreign investment, and no evidence that expansion will bring in more. Bristol is readily accessible from the London airports which are favoured by international investors, and the existing capacity at BIA is more than adequate for investors to access Bristol.

From UN figures, the UK as a whole ran an investment deficit of $60bn per year from 1997 to 2001, the only year having more money coming in rather than out being 2001 after the double whammy of the “dot com” / Enron crashes and the terrorism of 9/11 – both of which significantly reduced both inward and outward investment in that year. If rising international flight connectivity has increased investment flow, it has been OUT of the UK rather than into the UK.

In high-tech industries, which are targeted for growth in the Bristol area, the key investment decision is in product ideas, technologies and experienced teams – the presence of a regional airport is not in any way a deciding factor.

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References and further reading

“Pie in the Sky” - summary – Bullock

“Pie in the Sky” - full report – Bullock

“The Economic impact of Bristol International Airport” - Ecologica

Parliamentary Question – Liam Fox

“Predict and Decide” – Cairns, Environmental Change Institute

“Stern Review on the economics of climate change”

Bristol International Airport Master Plan

“The Future of Air Transport” White Paper

“Travel Trends” - International Passenger Survey, Office of National Statistics (covers tourism deficit)

“Fuel Efficiency of commercial aircraft” - National Aerospace Laboratory

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1999): 'Aviation and the global atmosphere', A Special Report of IPCC Working Groups I and III in collaboration with the Scientific Assessment Panel to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer
[J.E. Penner, D.H. Lister, D.J. Griggs et al. (eds.)], Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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© Stop Bristol Airport Expansion, 2006

This document is still being revised and may still contain incomplete information or minor inaccuracies. If you spot any such errors please contact us and we will endeavour to correct them at the earliest opportunity.