Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bristol Airport expansion plans: flying into trouble


Bristol Airport has revealed its expansion plans. I've made a few contrbutions to the online debate, including commenting here on a local newspaper blog.

By expanding air travel we are encouraging money flow out of our economy - the difference between what Britons flying abroad spent in other countries and what visitors to this country spend here produces an £11 billion a year deficit! Its important at all times but especially in a recession, that people spend money supporting their own economy.

There are huge subsidies to the airports industry hidden in government funding for regional development, roads and airport infrastructure. The UK economy loses around £9 billion a year in taxation because aviation fuel is tax-free and all aviation transactions are VAT-free.

The most frequent flyers are in the top 10% of income-earners. They benefit most from the current tax concessions. In a typical year: less than 50% of the population flies at all; the poorest 10% hardly ever fly; of those that do fly, only 11% come from poorer backgrounds; even on budget airlines, 75% of the trips are made by the upper and middle classes.

Aviation is a very rapidly growing contributor to climate change. Planes are very heavy users of fossil fuel. The way that jet engines burn fuel produces nitrous oxides and high level clouds - tripling climate change impacts. Flying contributes 3.5% of climate changing emissions world-wide now, rising to perhaps 15% by 2050 on past trends. If expansion plans continue aviation emissions will scupper Government targets on climate change in the Bill that only recently became law.

Ecosystems, buildings and people’s health are at risk across the country. Air pollution around airports will continue to rise. Expansion is also generating more car traffic and invariably new or wider roads are proposed and built – adding to impacts in both construction and use.

The noise experienced by people living around airports or under flight paths will grow. There is no prospect of significantly quieter planes coming on-stream over the next 30 years. Already people under the flight paths to the busiest airports have to endure a plane every 90 seconds. They say it is 'like living under a sky of sound.'

The impact of aviation expansion on poor people in the developing world will be devastating unless we act. These are the people who: are worst affected by the changing climate; have few rights; have little choice about where they live; who are the least likely people on the planet to set foot aboard an aeroplane!!

The Government has said that it expects the number of passengers using UK airports to nearly treble by 2030. To meet this demand means new runways are needed at Stansted, Heathrow, Birmingham, Edinburgh and most likely Glasgow. Many of the country's other airports would see significant expansion, such as that proposed for Bristol. Government has provided a charter for the aviation industry and developers to proceed with airport expansion despite its new legislation on climate change, with a target of cutting emissions from 1990 levels by 80% by 2050!!

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