With much discussion happening in the news regarding aviation, there might just be an opportunity to try to address the current state of aviation and its economic value. The government wants to maintain a competitive ‘hub status’ in Britain, which means they want to expand aviation capacity, preferably in the South East.
This is especially important in the context of climate change, with the aviation industry currently being responsible for a high proportion (13% in the UK) of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and estimated to be responsible for almost 5% of man-made climate change. In the UK, aviation makes up a greater proportion of the country’s contribution to climate change than in any other major economy.
As you may be aware, there are many suggestions over where to expand. The London Conservatives, the government Tories and the Lib Dems are all arguing over whether Heathrow should be expanded, a new airport in the Thames Valley should be created, extra capacity at other UK airports – such as Birmingham – should be utilised, or could we even see Boris Island come into contention. The argument is becoming so intense that the recent Cabinet reshuffle (or first shuffle) saw the removal of Justine Greening as Transport Secretary – an opponent of the Heathrow third runway – and now Boris and Dave are falling out.
If the Lib Dems get their way, Birmingham would be the preferred route of expansion. And, the new HS2 would act as an artery for businesses wanting to remain in the Thames Valley having built up around Heathrow, while foreign corporate money continues to flow into London.
Windsor MP Adam Afriyie is backing Boris in favouring an estuary airport. In an article on 10 September for the Telegraph, Mr Afriyie said: “The country is in desperate need of policies that will create jobs and economic growth.
“As an island trading nation we need a bold solution for aviation that shows leadership.
“A single short runway at Heathrow would be a half-hearted and timid step. It would be temporary sticking plaster when we need to build 5 or 10 new runways to remain competitive over the forthcoming decades.
“With a major new coastal airport flights could operate 24/7 without disturbing anyone. A high-speed rail link would whisk passengers to central London and the national transport network within the hour.”
Whilst Mr Afriyie’s 5 to 10 estimate appears vaguely plucked from the air, he does admit that the motivation to expand is to remain competitive – by fluttering eyelids at burgeoning Asian economies and giving corporations as much free reign as possible as long as money is spent over here. The government and industry are continually harping on about the need for extra capacity, but there is no need for it. Heathrow may be operating near capacity but Gatwick is at 78% and Stansted only 53%.
Essentially, the government seems to be continually turning its back on any opportunities to stimulate UK growth through the use of the green economy. For example, it would be a good idea to have a significant tax on passengers which went directly into the pockets of local residents – compensating for levels of noise disturbance (as well as being a bonus for the property market) – or was invested into developing new green technologies, or trying to tackle the environmental impacts of aviation. It would also be self-regulating, as airlines would have to increase their prices if they used environmentally un-friendly aircraft or used flight paths over highly populated residential areas. This would surely benefit people and the environment far more effectively than the current token tax on passengers (Air Passenger Duty) which goes straight into government hands to be spent according to current government policies. The Tories themselves know that government money is spent inefficiently.
Heathrow is already the third largest airport in the world in terms of passenger numbers and, as economist Ann Pettifor explains in a recent report by the New Economics Foundation and the World Development Movement, no one has suggested that German economic growth results in any significant way from the steady growth of Frankfurt airport. If you have visited Germany, you will note that the visible differences in the state of its economy are not to be seen around its airports – but along its roads, railways, wind farms and the quality of its products.
In aviation, if the government stopped looking to compete for the quick buck from abroad, and actually started to encourage UK industry – focusing on the green economy – we could have a more sustainable economy instead of the current boom and bust which is such a favourite for big corporations. And with a second runway potentially back on the cards at Birmingham Airport, now could be the time for renewed campaigns against airport expansion and for the green economy. If you’d like to get involved in campaigning on aviation with Birmingham Friends of the Earth then get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org