At yesterday’s meeting of the Environment Committee, Assembly Members heard that while there is an annual cap of 480,000 aircraft allowed to use Heathrow, the number of passengers using the airport could rise from the current number of 66 million to up to 95 million once redevelopment and construction of the terminals are completed. This equates to a third more passengers passing through Heathrow and London. So with passenger numbers rising, capacity at Heathrow airport is getting bigger. This is despite the warnings which the expansionists relay about falling flight numbers and the effect on economic growth.
How’s all this being squared with the maintenance of the annual cap? Well essentially the airlines are bringing in bigger planes. You only have to see the Emirates airbuses at Heathrow to appreciate that while the airlines may only have the same number of slots, they can fly more passengers with the bigger crafts. Naturally the concern is what the local environmental impact of bigger planes for residents of west London’s suburbs will be? We were told by BAA that it is encouraging airlines to use more modern aeroplanes into Heathrow, which are quieter than the older models. Although recent changes to flight paths and operational methods could mean that more people than ever are being affected by aircraft noise, the scale and impact of which is very difficult to evaluate at this point as the Department for Transport begins a mixed mode trial. This did not, however stop BAA spinning the usual line about quieter aircrafts when it came to the issue of noise pollution.
Another major concern is whether we have enough surface transport to cope with the additional air passengers travelling into London by taxi, car lifts and public transport? We were told that of the additional 29 million passengers passing through Heathrow, up to a third would be transfer passengers, namely passengers who are leaving one plane for another without leaving the airport, however this still leaves some 20 million additional passengers coming into London. That sort of number merits another separate meeting on surface transport issues alone when we return to Heathrow issues, particular in West London hotspots like Hammersmith, Paddington & Ealing Broadway where many of the additional passengers will pass through. So while BAA & BA will continue to highlight the cap on flights in and out of Heathrow, this will do little to curb the expansion of actual passenger numbers, of up to one third as airlines introduce bigger planes. Without detracting from the usual objections for wholesale expansion at Heathrow, we should not loose sight of the impact larger planes will have on noise and air pollution particularly for local residents