Expansion of northern airports ‘at risk from emissions targets’

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EXPANDING airport capacity in the south would worsen the north-south divide by driving northern airports out of business, according to environmental groups.

The Whitehall-appointed Airports Commission’s claim that it is possible to build a new runway in the south east and still meet the Government’s climate change targets is today challenged by environmental organisations.

They argue that building a new runway at Gatwick or Heathrow would mean regional airports being constrained to ensure CO2 emissions from aviation fall to their 2005 levels by 2050.

The groups say that if aviation emissions were allowed to soar it would impose costs on the rest of the economy rising to between £1 billion and £8.4 billion per year or more by 2050.

The two reports have been released by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, nature charity the WWF and by Aviation Environment Federation (AEF).

The Airports Commission is considering where airport expansion should go ahead and will publish its final report in summer 2015.

One of the reports, from the RSPB, said the commission had assumed that climate change targets could be met as aviation emissions will be constrained by regulatory measures.

But the report found that the regulatory regime is still aspirational - or is so weak as to be ineffective. It argues: “We are therefore basing our decision to build a new runway on a world as we would like it to be - rather than as it currently exists.”

The report concludes that, in order to comply with the Climate Change Act, the only options are to manage future demand by increasing the cost of carbon which would see fares soar to unrealistically high levels or constrain capacity at airports by ruling out any new runways.

The groups said that the second report, from the Aviation Environment Federation and commissioned by WWF-UK, showed that it was impossible to build an additional runway in south east England and keep aviation emissions consistent with meeting UK climate targets, without cutting airport capacity elsewhere.

In practice, this could mean that many regional airports would need either to be closed or limited to operating fewer flights than today’s levels.

They added that this would conflict with both Government and commercial forecasts, which anticipate at least 200 per cent growth by 2050.

RSPB economist Adam Dutton said: “The rest of the economy will be heavily penalised if emissions from aviation are not constrained.”

AEF report author Cait Hewitt said: “The commission and future governments have a choice to make: either allow aviation expansion in the south east and heavily constrain regional airports or let regional airports grow within the capacity they already have but don’t build any new runways. But climate change limits mean that you can’t do both.”

Last night Steve Gill, MD of Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster, said recent months have seen new destinations added and a new link road would make it easier to reach the airport.

“Growing our business is a major part of our plan over the next few years and we are keen to increase our passenger figures and serve more of our region from their local airport.”

He said the environmental reports would be given “due consideration”.