Birmingham International Airport (BIA) hit the headlines again in September when the airport company announced that the controversial proposal to construct a second runway by 2020 has been dropped from the forthcoming airport development ‘master plan’. In the absence of the master plan itself, which is expected to be published before the end of the year, BIA Ltd. put out a four-page ‘Interim Statement’ summarising its current development plans.
Most of the media coverage focussed on the decision to shelve the second runway. Updated forecasts of growth in demand for flights at BIA indicate that another runway will not be needed after all, at least not before 2030. However, the airport company is pushing ahead with the plan to extend the existing runway by 2012 (in time for the London Olympics) and begin construction of a third terminal by 2018. A planning application to extend the runway is likely to be submitted to Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council before the year is out.
Birmingham Airport anti-Noise Group (BANG), the residents’ campaign group Birmingham FoE helped to set up in 2001, welcomed the Interim Statement but said local people living in the airport’s shadow ‘could not sleep easy yet’. BANG, which represents local people affected by aircraft noise pollution and blight, is concerned that operating a longer runway at BIA will mean:

• Closer and lower flights over residential areas;
• More people over a wider area exposed to aircraft noise pollution;
• Scrapping operational measures designed to mitigate noise – for example, with a longer runway, the airport will no longer be able to operate the ‘Hampton Turn’, the southerly departure route from the current runway which takes planes away from the village of Hampton-in-Arden;
• More airport-related traffic congestion on an already over-stretched transport network.

The airport’s contribution to climate change, directly from aircraft emissions and indirectly from associated road journeys, will also continue to grow. The airport company claims that the runway extension will help mitigate the climate change impact of aviation by helping BIA ‘claw back’ West Midlands air travellers who currently make long car journeys to other airports in search of direct long-haul flights, which the current runway cannot accommodate. But follow this line of argument to its logical conclusion and we’ll end up with a Heathrow in every region. Besides, the lion’s share of BIA’s future growth will come from a rise in demand in the West Midlands for short-haul flights, not from a greater retention of travellers currently going elsewhere to start direct long-haul air journeys.
For those residents affected by property blight from the second runway proposals, the news is mixed, and some uncertainty still remains. The Interim Statement says that the airport company’s voluntary blight compensation scheme will not be triggered this side of 2030, so there’ll be no pay-outs for the foreseeable future. That said, the fact that the second runway has been shelved, at least for the time being, should, providing local estate agents are brought up to speed on the new master plan, serve to relieve the blight.
The airport’s management do not anticipate the need to review the master plan again until after the runway extension has been completed. After that, however, who knows? The airport company will never say never to a second runway, and I for one would not be surprised if the proposal turns up again, like a bad penny, in ten years’ time.
You can read the Interim Statement on-line at BIA’s website: . Birmingham FoE and BANG will be working with other residents groups to fight the runway extension and push for a more environmentally sustainable approach to the future development of BIA. A new campaign and website devoted to stopping the runway extension will be launched in the coming weeks, so keep watching the skies.