Birmingham Friends of the Earth kicks off 2008 with a new campaign to fight the expansion of Birmingham International Airport (BIA).
Birmingham FoE has teamed up with Birmingham Airport anti-Noise Group (BANG) to create a tongue-in-cheek website, www.flyagra.co.uk, satirising the proposal to extend the airport's runway. A spoof spam e-mail advertising 'Flyagra, the revolutionary treatment that really keeps you up!' will direct web users to the site, which compares the runway extension to a dodgy 'male organ' enlargement treatment.
But the campaign carries a serious message too: airport expansion is bad news for local residents and the environment, and time is running out in which to stop the development going ahead.
In November the airport company, Birmingham International Airport Limited, published a new development 'master plan' outlining the latest expansion proposals. Adding 400 metres to the south-east end of the runway, at a cost of £120 million, will enable BIA to serve a wider range of long-haul destinations, while extra aircraft taxiways will increase runway capacity, defined as the number of flights the airport can handle in peak hours. On 4th January BIA Ltd submitted an application to Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council for planning permission to begin work on the runway extension and the additional infrastructure required to support it. If councillors approve the plans, the airport could be operating a full-length runway as early as 2012. By 2030, BIA could be handling 27.2 million passengers a year, three times as many as in 2006.
New lower forecasts of air traffic growth at Birmingham mean that the controversial second runway, originally envisaged to begin operations some time between 2016 and 2020, will not be needed before 2030. However, opponents of the second runway who are backing the runway extension as the 'lesser of two evils' (especially local politicians hoping to position themselves as both 'pro-airport' and 'pro-environment') should think again. The runway extension is merely 'phase one' of a long-term programme of development culminating in a second runway, albeit later now rather than sooner.
Campaigners point to evidence that the proposals in the current Master Plan will mean a doubling of the number of local people exposed to significant aircraft noise pollution and a trebling in aircraft carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Master Plan, the number of residents exposed to aircraft noise at the level deemed to mark the onset of 'significant community annoyance' is set to grow from 26,800 people in 2006 to 55,150 people in 2030. Meanwhile, a report published by the Department for Transport in December, 'UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts', predicts that aircraft emissions from flights out of Birmingham will rise from 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year in 2005 to 3 million tonnes a year in 2030.
Domestic flights and international departures from UK airports account for around 6 per cent of the country's total output of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas produced by human activities. Carbon dioxide emissions from UK aviation doubled between 1990 and 2000, during which time the combined carbon dioxide emissions from all other UK sources fell by around 9 per cent. Aviation emissions are set to more than double again between 2000 and 2030, and could increase to between 4 and 10 times their 1990 level by 2050.
The Government has committed itself to reducing UK carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050. Meeting even this target, however, let alone the more ambitious target of 80-90 per cent now being urged by many scientists, will be all but impossible if aviation is allowed to carry on expanding at its present rate. It is highly unlikely that non-aviation sectors of the economy will be able to deliver sufficient cuts in their emissions to offset the growth in emissions from flights.
By way of climate change 'mitigation', the new BIA Master Plan offers only a token gesture of support for aviation's eventual inclusion under the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, and a handful of promises to promote public transport and energy efficiency, none of which has any bearing on emissions from aircraft. Birmingham Strategic Partnership's draft Climate Change Strategy proposed establishing a voluntary carbon 'offset' scheme for passengers using BIA, the proceeds from which would go toward helping low-income households in the city become more energy efficient. Very laudable no doubt, but unlikely to make much of a dent in emissions overall.
Emissions trading is the aviation industry's preferred method of dealing with the climate impact of its operations. The UK government is pushing to have aviation emissions incorporated under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the European Commission is in the process of developing a legislative proposal to bring this about. While it represents a small step in the right direction, the inclusion of aviation within the existing Scheme is unlikely to have a significant impact on the demand for flights and the growth in aircraft emissions, according to a detailed feasibility study of the proposals undertaken by C E Delft for the Commission in 2005.
Incremental improvements in aircraft engine performance might manage a small reduction in emissions per flight in the coming years, but air travel is growing so fast that efficiency gains are being wiped out by the growth in aviation emissions overall.
Despite these concerns, many people seem to think that a runway extension at BIA will mostly benefit the environment. Extending the runway, it is argued, will mean the airport will be satisfying a greater proportion of the regional demand for air travel where that demand arises, as Midlands air passengers currently travelling long-distance by car to start air journeys at other airports are wooed back to Birmingham by the more comprehensive range of air services available from an expanded BIA. This 'clawing back' of the regional air travel market will supposedly reduce surface transport carbon dioxide emissions and road traffic congestion in other regions by allowing Midlands air travellers to begin their journeys closer to home.
Although there will undoubtedly be some 'claw back', most of BIA's future growth will arise from an increase in demand for flights within the airport's regional catchment area, not from a greater retention of passengers currently travelling to other airports.
The cost-benefit analysis carried out by York Aviation as part of its Economic Impact Assessment of the runway extension assumes that air passengers who switch to using BIA over other airports represent additional passengers in the overall air travel market. In other words, any passengers 'clawed back' to Birmingham as a result of the runway extension will be replaced at the airports they previously used by new passengers. This means that the flights from other airports from which the additional passengers using BIA are drawn will continue to operate, so there will be no decrease in emissions elsewhere to offset the increase at Birmingham.
As for road traffic, the Environmental Impact Assessment for the runway extension undertaken by Arup shows that, although operating a longer runway will result in a small saving in terms of carbon dioxide emissions from airport-related car journeys, this small saving is purchased at the cost of a far greater increase in emissions from aircraft using the extended runway. Arup conclude that carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 would be 37 per cent higher if the runway extension went ahead than if the airport continued to grow without extending the runway.
The self-defeating logic of 'claw back' really becomes evident when we consider that while regional airports generally serve local demand, the larger ones like Birmingham and Manchester also attract passengers from a wider area. How many air travellers from outside the Midlands can we expect to start making 'unnecessary' car journeys to our congested city to take advantage of the extra services offered by BIA? Will other airports cite expansion at Birmingham as a reason why they too must expand in order to 'claw back' a greater share of the market for themselves? And then what? A second runway? A Heathrow in every region?
The Flyagra campaign will concentrate on lobbying Solihull Council to refuse planning permission for the runway extension. As the local planning authority, Solihull will be under tremendous pressure from the business community and the other West Midlands local authorities to grant that permission. But it would be grossly irresponsible of councillors to give the green light to a development which could send carbon dioxide emissions literally sky-high.
Councillors have until 25th April 2008 to determine the planning application. Local residents and other interested parties concerned about the impact of the airport's expansion on their lives, communities and environment have until Friday 22nd February to submit their objections to Solihull Council's planning department. More information on the runway extension, why we oppose it and how you can help stop it can be found at www.flyagra.co.uk.