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There is no business case for airport expansion


UK newspapers are full of speculation about what Sir Howard Davies and the Airports Commission are going to reveal as their short list for airport expansion, when they publish their interim report on 17 December.

Aeroplane in flightAccording to newspaper reports, Sir Howard is going to be recommending Heathrow as his favoured site for expansion. The debate on airport expansion now seems to be centred on not ‘whether’ but ‘where’—and that ‘where’ does seem increasingly likely to be Heathrow.

Heathrow is the UK’s main business airport with a third of passengers flying for business purposes. It’s therefore not surprising that ‘business needs airport expansion’ has been a key argument made by Heathrow and other proponents of more runways—especially given the economic downturn.

But what WWF’s analysis of publically available data shows, combined with our FTSE 500 research (PDF) and experience of working with leading companies to reduce their flying, is that business flying has been in decline for some time. What is more, our evidence points to this being a permanent shift in business travel behaviour with companies choosing to fly less and use alternatives more, such as rail and videoconferencing to save time, money and carbon.

To illustrate the fact that business is flying less, WWF has prepared an infographic which clearly shows that this trend has been in existence since well before the recession and any talk of a ‘capacity crunch’ in UK airport capacity.  When you add together the historic decline in business flying and the future intentions of many FTSE 500 companies to fly less, plus the latest achievements of our One in Five Challengers—who have cut their flights on average by 38% and saved £2.1 million over the last three years—the results are clear. It simply makes good business sense to fly less and use other alternatives instead to stay connected.

Check out this infographic link on the image

Of course, we’ve had other important objections to major airport expansion. First and foremost is our concern that the emissions produced by any new runways – at Heathrow or elsewhere – would wreck our UK climate targets. We simply can’t ‘magic’ these emissions away by expecting a cap & trade scheme (such as the troubled European Emissions Trading System) to offset this growth. Nor is any global aviation deal in sight to offset UK emissions growth from airport expansion.

Our analysis (PDF) also makes it clear that we already have sufficient airport capacity for aviation to grow, according to the limits compatible with the UK Climate Change Act, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. And according to our report on The Economics of Airport Expansion (PDF), there is no proven link between airport expansion and economic growth.

We’re disappointed that the Airports Commission seems to be convinced that business needs airport expansion. Nor do they appear to accept the potential for alternatives such as rail and videoconferencing to replace a significant amount of flying. That’s not what the evidence says. The projections simply don’t match the reality—there is no business case for airport expansion.

Businesses are profiting from #FlyingLess. We don’t need new runways.

What’s your view on airport expansion in the UK? Leave a comment on David’s blog.

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