UK Told to Make Airlines Pay More for Emissions, Noise

LONDON, United Kingdom, September 3, 2003 (ENS) - A transportation advisory commission to the British government has called for "a radical shake up" of the charges airlines face for the pollution and congestion they cause. Airlines would have to be accountable for greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution, and passengers would pay for these tough new measures, but local communities would get more control over pollution, says the commission's new report.

The Commission for Integrated Transport (CFiT) issued a report Monday that says airlines are responsible for far more pollution than they are held accountable for. Its report recommends that the responsibilities of airlines "should be extended to congested runways and airspace, local environment, health effects, greenhouse gases and land blight."

CFiT Chairman Professor David Begg, said, “What we are proposing is nothing short of a radical reform to make operators and passengers confront the environmental consequences of their actions."


In addition to chairing the Commission for Integrated Transport, Professor David Begg is director of The Centre for Transport Policy at The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen and also serves as chairman of the National Transport Advisory Group. (Photo courtesy Aberdeen University)

In light of a broad consultation on the future development of air transport in the United Kingdom, the Blair government asked its advisory commission for a report on how the aviation industry should deal with the external costs of noise, crowded skies and air pollution.

In response, commission recommends that global greenhouse gases emitted by the aviation industry should be capped and an open, international emissions trading system should be pursued "vigorously" by the government.

In addition, greenhouse gas emissions of internal aviation should be included in the UK Emissions Trading scheme, the commission suggests.

A climate change emission "en route" charge in European Union air space should be put into operation in the short term, the commission says, and the value for emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, should be set at £70 (US$110) per metric ton of carbon.

Ten years ago the aviation industry worldwide was responsible for 3.5 percent of all human caused climate change emissions - the equivalent of the UK’s entire greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050 it could rise to 15 percent of the world total, the commission predicts.

Noise charges or tradable noise permits, should be introduced, as part of its set of changes, which the commission says should be "viewed as indivisible," due to the trade offs between certain external costs. Noise charges would be based on certified aircraft noise production and time of arrival and departure.


A passenger airplane skims the tops of houses in the Hatton, part of the Borough of Hounslow near London (Photo courtesy Hounslow Borough Council)
This recommendation gave some encouragement to people living near Heathrow, Britain's busiest airport, who lost their legal challenge against night flights on July 8 when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that aircraft noise did not violate their human rights.

The court said the economic impact of halting night services at Heathrow far outweighed the rights of those suffering disrupted sleep.

But the Hounslow Borough Council which governs the area adjacent to Heathrow is worried about a proposed expansion of the busy airport. There will be "pressure to increase night flights and greater pressure to abandon measures to give some relief to local residents," the council said. "This will mean that residents not just in Hounslow but across West London, will be affected by noise nuisance from aircraft.”

Local governments across the UK would get more control if the commission's recommendation on air pollution is adopted. "Local air quality emission charges should be introduced based on existing international aircraft emission data, and specific values, such as population size and density surrounding each airport," the commission said.

Landing and take off slots should be auctioned to manage peak time demand, the commission recommends, and the Blair government should push for international agreement on the introduction of congestion charging for airlines to reflect the external cost for use of airspace.

“By auctioning slots, setting ceilings on noise, putting a cost on congested airspace and giving local communities more control over the local noise and environmental impacts, aviation will be able to develop in harmony with the communities it serves," said Begg.

The commission's report says that the current Aviation Passenger Duty - of between £5 and £40 (US$8 and $63) per passenger - raises £800 million (US$1.25 billion) a year.

But this is just over half the £1.4 billion (US$2.2 billion) cost due to climate change emissions the industry is responsible for in the UK, and does not cover the cost of the remaining environmental impacts, the commission says, adding that existing charges "give the airlines little incentive to reduce costs or passengers to consider their journey against the damage it is causing."

The CfIT maintains that passing on these costs to the airlines is both in line with government’s view that the polluter pays and gives the airlines incentives to raise their standards further.

While the commission acknowledges that further research will be required before all external costs can be priced and charged to the industry, a great deal is already known about greenhouse gas emissions, local air quality, noise and congestion, its report states.


Planes on the tarmac at Heathrow International Airport (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
The impact of flights on local habitats should be monitored and should influence flight path trajectory, said the commission, which also recommends that land remaining vacant because of noise nuisance should be included in external costs.

“Airports have a huge impact on the communities they serve as well as on the environment at large, and we need to make sure that, in a world of growing demand, environmental impact is kept to a manageable minimum," said Begg. “At the moment there is little incentive for airlines and passengers to change their behavior.”

Passengers at UK airports tripled in the 20 years to 2001, rising from 50 million to 162 million. Future forecasts show demand rising by between four to five percent a year with fare prices expected to fall.

An all party committee of the House of Commons issued a report in July that also contains warnings about skyrocketing passenger loads and the environmental impact they will have on future greenhouse gas emissions.

In its report, “Budget 2003 and Aviation,” the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee which contains a “stark warning” that growth in flights and passengers on the scale predicted will “wreck” and “destroy” the UK’s Kyoto and recent Energy White Paper targets to reduce global warming.

The committee was critical about the way it said the Department of Transport had overestimated the economic importance of air transport and scathing about the way in which the department had downplayed the environmental costs associated with growth from 180 million passengers today through to 500 million by 2030.

“Much more account needs to be taken of the congestion on runways and in the air, local environmental impacts, health effects, greenhouse gases and land blight," said Begg.

The success of the UK aviation industry is vital both to the UK economy and our way of life, he said, but the country must ensure that the contribution of this industry is "a responsible and sustainable one."