UK aviation policy a ‘missed opportunity’ for air quality

The London Assembly’s Health and Environment Committee has criticised the government’s aviation strategy as a “missed opportunity” for tackling air and noise pollution from aircraft

The government’s new aviation emissions strategy is “disappointing” and has not responded to environmental concerns on air quality and noise, according to the London Assembly.

Unveiled in March, the Aviation Policy Framework sets out the government’s objectives for tackling UK aviation emissions and noise as the sector grows. The framework document suggested that a focus on reducing airport noise could potentially impact on aviation air pollution levels (see story).

The government unveiled its aviation policy framework in March 2013

The government unveiled its aviation policy framework in March 2013

However, the London Assembly’s Health and Environment Committee today (May 7) published a letter online which it has sent to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin criticising the government’s framework as a “missed opportunity” to respond to concerns about the environmental costs of aviation.

According to the Committee, there has been little improvement in pollution levels around Heathrow for more than a decade and areas around the airport already breach EU air quality limits.

The letter said that it was “disappointing” that the framework showed a “shift away from requiring decisions on new capacity to incorporate the least environmentally damaging solutions”.

It is also criticised a perceived lack of commitment to national action, such as including aviation in the five-year national carbon budgets. The letter states that “delays and uncertainty over the European emissions trading scheme should be an argument for decisive national action, not against”.

The Committee was pleased, however, that the framework recognised that surface measures — such as the greater use of public transport to and from airports — were needed alongside using greener aircraft to improve air quality. The letter described this as a “step in the right direction”.

The letter states: “We need to ensure that any environmental safeguards put in place are fit for purpose and will make a positive difference to the environment and health of those individuals who live in close proximity to airports.”


However, with regards to noise, the government has also not taken up the Committee’s recommendation for a new benchmark for identifying communities most affected by noise, according to the letter. It describes the final framework in this regard as “weak”.

The letter says: “This system of self-regulation by the airport operators has so far failed to produce a scheme that is satisfactory to local residents around Heathrow Airport. It is difficult to understand how the government expects more of the same to yield a better system than presently exists.”

Murad Qureshi, chair of the Assembly’s Health and Environment Committee, said: “When the government published its aviation policy framework in draft form, it asked the right questions about noise, air quality and climate change, but the final version fails to deliver on these.

“It is disappointing that so few of the recommendations we and others made have been taken up by the government. This represents a missed opportunity to respond to the very real concerns people have about the environmental impacts of aviation. We very much hope any future regulations will remedy this.”

The Committee’s letter to the transport secretary is available on the London Assembly website.


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