As Heathrow grows,noise and air pollution still need to be tackled

You only have to see a double deck A380 landing at Heathrow to realise the airlines are expanding

With all the talk about the coalition government reconsidering its position with Heathrow in today’s sundays papers, all assume that Heathrow is not expanding and ignores Londoners concerns about noise and air pollution.

While Heathrow may have reached its upper limit of flight numbers to and from its runways, the actual numbers of passengers passing through its terminals is most certainly increasing. You only have to witness an A380 plane land at Heathrow, off-loading 500 plus passengers to realize that Heathrow expansion is a practical reality.  If all aircraft passing through Heathrow were on the same scale, then it would be much easier to contemplate the extra tens of millions more passengers which could potentially use the airport.  Currently, it can handle around 66 million passengers and once the redevelopment and construction of the five terminals are completed it will be able to cope with 90-95 million passengers a year. So whos says Heathrow isn’t getting bigger.

Interestingly its the Arab and Asian airlines who have been bringing in the extra passengers with A380, with them offering connections with other flights in Middle Eastern hubs like Dubai. Clearly responding to the demands of  their customers both business & lesiure, without demanding more slots and thus capacity at Heathrow while offering us the connections still. So while direct flights maybe not on offer by these airlines, you are certainly been offered very convenient connections and the full plane loads suggest customers are happy with this arrangement.

The major concerns is the impact which this increasing capacity will have on the immediate local environmental in terms of air quality and noise.  After Central London, Heathrow airport is the second major hot spot for poor air quality in London particularly with Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).  Poor air quality is leading to the early deaths of at least 4,300 Londoners a year, and the UK is already facing legal action and fines of £300 million for its breaches of EU air pollution limits.  While much attention is rightly given to this major public health issue in London, little is directed specifically at Heathrow. 

The environmental impact of Heathrow is not exclusive to west London.  Although, it is acknowledged that 28 per cent of all people in Europe affected by aircraft noise live under the Heathrow flight paths, that’s some 700,000 people; this does not account for those affected by operational freedom trials currently taking place in Heathrow, on places like Wandsworth, where some 500 plus noise complaints have been made since the start of the trials last November.  The flight noise problem has clearly spread across London, but before we begin to address these issues, there must be an honest and informed analysis of the status quo and the problems.  Furthermore, this needs to be done before the Government’s consultation on night flights begins towards the end of the year.

In this respect the recent, the Environment Committee report “Plane Speaking – A growing Heathrow &  its noise and air pollution” attempts to begin to deal with these issues in a very significant year for aviation in London.  

The report highlights surface transport concerns in and around Heathrow which can make a major contribution in reducing the local environmental impact. This has to be improved otherwise increased passenger numbers will generate more road traffic, the a major source of the air pollution around the airport. This includes: making better use of the Piccadilly tube line connection; making sure Crossrail offers the service levels to take on the growing numbers of passengers coming into central London; that it’s appropriately linked to the new planned High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) has links to the North in order to minimize long car journeys to the airport.  Finally and fundamentally we must begin to accept that Heathrow is a major transport hub for modes other than air transport alone, attracting as much traffic from ThamesValley, further West as it does from centralLondon.  This clearly has knock-on effects for transport provision planning and infrastructure in London as well as consequences for the environment including air quality and road noise.

So while the current focus maybe on whether we should build new runways in London & the South-East, we should not forget that with the advancement of technology and the steer towards bigger aircraft, in reality, Heathrow is expanding, carrying more passengers with all the side effects this brings.  What we must do is work out how to manage the resulting air and noise pollution without further burdening Londoners living around the area and beyond in Greater London and be consist across the whole of London. 2012 will be a decisive year for aircraft noise sufferers with the publication of the Government consultation on the new night flight regime expected in the spring.  So plainly speaking, Heathrow is expanding anyway by passenger numbers certainly and residents concerns about noise and poor air quality still need to be addressed.

Read this post here.

Traffic jam leading into Heathrow causing air pollution