16 Jun 2008

Government planning airport expansions on $60 a barrel

I'm just back from a Glos Airport Action Group meeting in Cheltenham - a very pleasant drink in a pub as well...lots to talk about in terms of next steps...although you have to wonder that the house of cards has started to fall...

One example is the BBC report: Airline cuts route over fuel cost. A low-cost airline has suspended one of its domestic routes because of the high price of aviation fuel. Exeter-based airline Flybe is halting its flights from Newquay in Cornwall to Glasgow. The service, introduced earlier this year as one of several new routes aimed at business travellers, will cease from the beginning of August. The company said flights to Glasgow would resume when the price of fuel goes down.

The 'when' is a little optimistic - see previous post today on Peak Oil. Staverton Airport of course claim they are insulated from this as they deal mainly with corporate flights. Anyhow today WWF released a news release saying...

Government spin oils the wheels of airport expansion

The impact of soaring oil prices on the UK economy will significantly reduce future air passenger numbers, bringing into question the need for airport expansion, according to new independent research released by WWF today. The case for airport expansion, including the third runway at Heathrow, is based on the premise that there will be more air passengers in future than the UK’s airports can currently handle. The research reworked the Government’s air passenger forecasts for 2030, examining the impacts of a more realistic price of oil, the knock-on effect this could have on UK GDP, and the potential introduction of policies encouraging a switch towards alternatives.

Combined, these factors produce an estimated figure of 350 million air passengers in 2030 - nearly 150 million less than the Government assumes will be taking to the skies and well within the current UK airport capacity of around 425 million passengers per year. The Government’s air passenger forecast assumes that oil prices today are only US$60 a barrel and will fall to $53 by 2012 and remain at that level indefinitely. At present, oil costs $136 a barrel, with some analysts forecasting prices as high as $200 in the near future. By doubling the Government’s estimate to a conservative assumption of $106 a barrel in 2030, the impact of the increased oil price on air fares alone would cause an estimated 15% reduction in the growth of air passengers.

“The Government’s current projections for passenger numbers are pie in the sky, based on estimated oil prices which border on the fantastical,” says Peter Lockley, Head of Transport Policy at WWF. “What’s more, the Government hasn’t even examined a scenario where it makes an effort to promote alternatives to flying such as videoconferencing.”

The research also examines the economic modelling used by the Government specifically to justify the third runway at Heathrow. By applying a few simple and reasonable adjustments to the Government’s model - raising the projected price of carbon, only counting the
benefits to UK passengers rather than non-UK ones and not counting taxes as a benefit - the £5 billion benefit claimed by the government swiftly becomes a £5 billion loss.

“Expanding the UK’s airports means locking the UK into a carbon-intensive future that is incompatible with the Government’s climate change targets,” says Peter Lockley. “If passengers start turning away from planes thanks to high oil prices and better alternatives, or we look a little more closely at the Government’s calculations behind projected profits, then the economic case for putting added pressure on the climate begins to look extremely shaky.”

WWF calculates that greater use of videoconferencing and alternative methods of travel combined could serve to reduce passenger growth by up to 13%. These figures are backed up by their recent report, Travelling Light, which discovered that 89% of major businesses expect to cut their flights in the future and that a similar number believe videoconferencing is the key way to achieve this. WWF is currently asking businesses to take the One in Five Challenge, and reduce their flights by 20% within five years, as part of its One Planet Future campaign and strongly urges Government agencies and departments to sign up to the campaign and commit to cutting their flights.

Staverton latest

There is a rumour that Gloucester City are planning a U turn, switching to supporting the airport's plans. They would do this based on a loop hole - someone has found a rule the gist of which is that a council can not take a decision that would lead to a business it owns going bankrupt. The airport will of course insist that their future depends on implementing the 'safety measures' thus obliging the council to support them.

We have certainly heard that the airport decision is likely to return to scrutiny before then heading for cabinet again. It should be a simple enough argument to anyone with a basic understanding of economics, the Airport is more likely to go bust by incurring a large investment that needs to be paid off in difficult economic circumstances. Indeed there are so many additional reasons why we should not be supporting this expansion....

Anyway on another matter some months we found details of the Belgian 'Abrahams' case that interpreted EU directives and seemed to set a precedent requiring that Staverton should conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for its development because the runway is more than 1200m long. The meeting reported that lawyers we are talking to, discovered that, in interpreting the EU directives, different countries have set different thresholds above which an EIA is compulsory - in the UK this is 2500m whereas in Belgium it is 1200m. Hence we can't rely on the Abrahams case findings on runway length to force an EIA. Although to me there is still a moral argument for one! However the Airport's 'scoping document' argues that no EIA is required. We need to do more work on this....

We tried to get the Airport's Scoping document and failed - however it is now being made available after FoE sought it through Freedom Of Information legislation - we also are seeking their noise report which indicates all the extra planes make no sound at all and the Air Quality report that says all smells of rosebuds - well not exactly but we are keen to see what they say - why are the Airport reluctant to release them - they say they show no problems - then again they did deny climate change was man-made....anyway lots more to report but I've run out of energy...

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