16 October 2012

Heathrow closure: 1/2 - it should not happen.

Is it not shocking that nobody tells us the real plans about what is going to happen to Heathrow airport in the next 50 years?

I have to admit that the plans are not clear. If you read institutional and non-institutional websites, transport blogs, transport forums etc. you still come to two conclusions.
One: nobody knows what they are doing but still go along with their plans come what may.
Two: there is a hidden plan to expand Heathrow come what may orchestrated by government (or big interested parties) so that the politically unspeakable becomes reality.

Short-termism is the rule of the day. When any sort of expansion of airport capacity in the South East of England is mentioned, be it Heathrow, Gatwick or an Estuary airport, or whatever, then the politicians get nervous. Why? Votes.

If runways/airports could be built in three- five years (a la China)  then the politicians would have what it takes to put the necessary infrastructure into place. As it is at present they do not have the guts - meaning both the government and the legislators (election cycles being up to 5 years means that no politician wants to put his job/constituency on the line). It is so wishy-washy of politicians (whatever their colour) to negate development when that means re-election. The word "NO" does not solve any problems but only puts them off to another occasion (obviously when it would not affect the individual concerned) - how cowardly.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have switched from supporting a third runway at Heathrow to being opposed to it. At least the Liberal Democrats (though not offering any practicable solutions) have been consistent in opposing a third runway. That was their price for forming a coalition with the Conservatives so as to be able to form a workable government

The party political conference season has just finished. Each and everyone was saying what the faithful wanted to hear and so imprisoned themselves into straightjackets with policies which have no future.

The governing coalition partners now have this to say in their transport policies.

"The Liberal Democrats believe that the aviation industry shouldn’t get special treatment and must cut emissions just like the rest of the country. Air pollution is already terrible around Heathrow airport and expansion will only make matters worse.
We will reverse Labour plans to expand Heathrow Airport and oppose Boris Johnson's proposals for a new airport in the Thames Estuary. Unlike the Conservatives we oppose all airport expansion serving London and the South East and so would block expansion at Stansted and Gatwick as well."

"The Conservative Party states as its policy.....
......The Conservatives opposed the building of a third runway at Heathrow. This commitment was met in the Coalition agreement. Our position on a third runway at Heathrow has not changed.
Planned actions
• We will pass the Civil Aviation Bill into law. This will deliver much-needed reforms to our aviation regulation system.
• We will press ahead with the consultation process on our draft aviation policy framework.
• The independent commission into aviation capacity will publish an interim report in 2013, and its final report in 2015 on options to maintain our hub status. Any decision will be taken after the next general election."

The Labour party actually says nothing on its website. The only two mentions are those stated below (and even so you have to look hard for them) of which only the first has anything to do with air transport (though nothing relevant to what this article is about).

On 14th June 2012 the Labour Party published "a Policy Review document on Empowering Communities to Improve Transport." which is the only document of any weight to see the light of day this year. While it is long on generalities it has nothing of note about specifics.

It should be noted that with the Cabinet reshuffle in September 2012 the new Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, replaced the former occupant, the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, who is an opponent of any airport expansion. As is stated in the Conservative policy, he has set up an independent commission ...."tasked with identifying and recommending to Government options for maintaining this country’s status as an international hub for aviation."  It will present an interim report before the end of 2013 while the final report must be presented by the summer of 2015. As has been pointed out on every political forum as well as the DfT itself, this date is conveniently after when the next General Election must take place. That way the coalition should hold together. However, when the content of the interim report is known it could break up the coalition prematurely. This could well mean the election is brought forward to late winter or early spring 2014. We shall have to wait and see but it does illustrate how politics is dominated by vote seeking and not necessarily the national good.

Meanwhile the rest get on with doing things and trying to find solutions to the problems.

Another document, which has just been published (October 2012), is a report by
the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment at MIT in collaboration with the Energy Efficient Cities Initiative at Cambridge University   
called "Air quality impacts of UK airport capacity expansion".

The most important point to note in this 5 page summary is that the number of deaths attributed to airport workings (not just aircraft) UKwide are 110(at Heathrow 50) annually.  This number is expected to increase(for a variety of reasons but without airports expansion) in 2030 to 250 in the UK (of which 110 will be attributed to Heathrow). With a third runway at Heathrow this figure is expected to grow from 110 to 150 annually. However, if a new hub were built in the Thames Estuary (with Heathrow being closed) the early deaths attributable to the (new) hub airport would be 50 annually.

The report goes on to make statements about the effects of air pollution which we are unable to see from the information written in the summary. As the summary stands I would question some statements made. To do that in any fair way we would have to read the full report as published in the UK-based scientific journal Atmospheric Environment. Despite obviously not having read anything other than the summary, many commentators have seen the document as the definitive "nail-in-the-coffin" for any expansion at Heathrow. However, things are not so clear.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, presented his Transport Strategy in June 2010. 
It states (point 5.22.5 page 242) in the section Reducing CO2 emissions from aviation
"Government has a target to reduce aviation COemissions to below 2005 levels by 2050."

This is significant and explains why so many documents are being produced concerning pollution. It is the Mayor´s legal obligation to ensure the reduction of the pollution levels.

At the instigation of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the Institute of Occupational Medicine published a report in June 2010 called "Report on estimation of mortality impacts of particulate air pollution in London". Here it looked at all the issues of air pollution (not just aircraft) and estimated that 4267 premature deaths are caused by air pollution in Greater London annually(the figures therein mentioned refer to 2008).

This, however, is only one document in a series published by the Mayor´s office to protect human health. The EU has set ‘limit values’ for PM10 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). PM10s are emitted mainly by cars, factories and domestic heating systems. In the Mayor´s Transport Strategy (previously cited) it mentions(page 104) that "since 1990 CO2 emissions from ground-based transport in London have remained largely constant" at about 22% of all air pollution. Of this fraction 14% is attributed to "ground-based aviation" (including landings and take-offs to 1000 meters) as seen in the graph on page 104. It should be pointed out that of that 22% fraction, 72% is attributed to road transport (cars, taxis, bus coaches, lorries and vans), and the other 14% to rail. The air pollution attributable to  ground-based aviation(up to 1000 meters) thus comes to 3.1% of the total.

The studies have not stopped and do not stop as these questions of air pollutants (particles and noise) are important and ways have to be found to remedy them. Such is the case that the London Assembly Health and Environment Committee is having hearings into "curbing airplane noise and emissions" (from 16th October 2012).

Not only government but also other institutions or agencies produce reports.
Stanford Engineering  "Do airplanes have to be so loud?"
Professor Lele says:  "They don´t. In fact, if you were to compare a jet engine today with one from 40 years ago, you´d find that it is about 100 times quieter for the same engine power." 

This is an interesting article which explains that not only engines but also airframes produce noise - something which is remediable.

Another source, The Register (quoting Science magazine) on 18th June 2009 published a report announcing the results of tests made by US engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. It claimed its new engine "the PW1000G offers a 15 per cent saving on fuel, correspondingly less CO2, and a 50 per cent cut in NOx emissions." These are significant figures. The first "planes will come into service from 2013."
Thus we arrive at the basic question to be asked.

Are we to be limited in development of active resources because of the problems of today without looking at the developments of tomorrow? 
The engine manufacturers and the airframe constructors are already planning the next generation of aircraft after A380, B747-8, B787 and A350. Airbus already has plans for aircraft with steeper descents to the runways and steeper climbs from takeoff. Engines are about consumption(for the layman: miles per gallon), efficiency of use(mpg and toxic fumes produced) and noise(efficiency of the engine). It cannot now be disputed that there have been substantial improvements in such areas since the introduction of the B707, the VC10, the B747(first generation) the Trident, the BAC111, the Caravelle, the DC8 etc. etc. The noise pollution over Richmond and Twickenham now has no comparison to the same when these aircraft were first introduced. 45 years ago the noise was even unbearable while now it is a mild irritant at most. Obviously the closer to the airport the greater the irritant - that has been, is and  will still be a point of discussion for all time wherever an airport is situated. If it is not the aircraft then it is the traffic going to/from the airport, or the airport itself, and if you are really at a loss for complaint then the passengers themselves. 

What has not been said so far is that not all airplanes should necessarily be jets. When they are propeller driven then they make far less noise and produce far fewer fumes than jets. Their noise/fume footprint outside the airport boundary is practically non-existant. If any third runway at Heathrow were built it would provide the necessary accessibility to destinations in the British Isles of which many would gain access by propeller driven aircraft.

Consider that the opponents of airport expansion today are basing their criticisms on the negative aspects of air travel. They conveniently forget the improvements in engine efficiency and reduction in noise since the initial explosion in jet air travel. Are there not going to be similar improvements in the next 50 years (as have been in the previous 50)? How can they  reject even aircraft which will not bother them? Are they not, therefore, being Luddites in rejecting any development? 


The next blog explains how Heathrow will not be closed.

Consider also the blog published 23rd February 2012 "Heathrow´s 3rd runway - how to focus"

No comments:

Post a Comment