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Much to the horror of environmentalists, a third runway at Heathrow Airport has been approved again; this time by the Committee on Climate Change, an independent body set up to advise the government on the impact on carbon emissions of a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow Airport. Environmentalists had been pretty sure that this group would contradict the government's findings and thus help to kill the project.
Instead the committee found that it would be possible to build the extra runway and allow an extra 140 million trips a year by 2050 and the government would still be able to meet its carbon target. The report endorses the expansion of Heathrow Airport because of the economic benefits to the UK and fear of loss of business to other European cities.
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According to the report, The Future of Aviation, passenger growth will have to be limited to 60% between now and 2050, allowing the UK a maximum of around 370 million air travellers. Since 1990, there has been an increase of 130% alone, with 230 million travellers now.
The report proposes a number of ways that the carbon target for the UK can be achieved. The creation of a high-speed rail network, and more use of video-conferencing to cut business travel are suggested. A carbon tax on flights which would force up fares.
Limiting the runway growth at certain airports, particularly Birmingham, Newcastle and Bristol is proposed. The growth of regional airports would be limited severely. This would mean that more flights would be from Heathrow and this would add to the price of flights and would favour international routes leaving from Heathrow. Stansted, Gatwick and Edinburgh will be allowed to expand.
Take-off and landing slots at airports would be restricted. Most importantly, they are relying on improvements in aviation; with aircraft manufacturers and airlines improving fuel efficiency, by use of biofuels. Greater use of the A380 superjumbo jets and more seats sold per flight are also part of the plan.
The opposition, including a bizarre meeting of the minds of Greenpeace and the Conservative party, argue that the government's figures don't add up. The head of Greenpeace UK said "The Government's aviation policy, the basis for their Heathrow decision, has been conclusively rejected by the Government's own advisers as incompatible with their climate targets. The Aviation White Paper and the poor decisions it led to must be ripped up in Cabinet, or ripped up in court. We urge the former, but are fully prepared to see Heathrow's third runway in the dock."
This fight will continue all the way to High Court; in fact the government has no hope that the new airport runways will be in operation until 2020. But this decision will make stopping the expansion harder for its opponents.
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