Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has described the latest Stansted Airport expansion proposals as an attempt to manipulate the planning process so as to avoid Government scrutiny and instead do a “sweetheart” deal with the local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council (UDC). SSE has also branded the airport planning application as misleading in claiming that further expansion of the airport would give rise to no significant adverse environmental impacts.
The planning application seeks permission for an annual throughput of 43 million passengers and 274,000 flights, which compares to 25.9 million passengers and 189,900 flights last year.
SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented: “It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to work out that a 44% increase in the number of flights and a 66% increase in the number of passengers means a lot more noise, a lot more pollution and a lot more traffic on our already congested local roads. By suggesting otherwise, Stansted Airport and its owners Manchester Airport Group (MAG) are treating the local community as if we were all complete fools.”
Stansted Airport is currently subject to a cap of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) and MAG initially indicated (in June 2017) that it would seek permission for the cap to be raised to “approximately 44.5 mppa” which it predicted would be achieved in 2029. SSE immediately pointed out that a cap of “approximately 44.5mppa” could easily mean 45mppa, i.e. 10mppa more than the present cap, and would therefore automatically be for the Secretary of State to determine the application, rather than Uttlesford Council. [see Note 1]
Seemingly in response to SSE’s stated position, MAG suddenly announced last October that it would trim its planning application from 44.5mppa to 43mppa. However, it soon became clear that this was not a genuine reduction. All that MAG did was to provide a forecast only until 2028, rather than 2029. Thus, as if by magic, the application was presented as seeking permission for 43mppa rather than 44.5mppa. It might reasonably also be asked: what happens in 2030?
SSE UPDATE DECEMBER 2017
New Government figures question the need for Stansted expansion
Stansted Airport’s claim that it will bursting at the seams by 2023 have been seriously undermined by the latest Government aviation forecasts. While Stansted’s owner, Manchester Airports Group (MAG), says its growth potential is being limited by the present cap at 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) and wants the limit raised to 43mppa – which it says it will reach by 2028 – the latest Government aviation forecasts suggest that this is a gross misrepresentation of reality. The Government expects Stansted to handle just 31mppa in 2030 and 35mppa in 2033, even taking full account of the assumption that Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and London City Airports will all be 100% full by 2030, based on no additional runways and the current planning caps remaining in place.
If, as planned, a third runway is built at Heathrow in the next 10 years, the Government projects that demand at Stansted will decline from 24mppa in 2016 to 22mppa in 2030 and that even by 2040 it will still only be handling 32mppa, i.e. less than the present cap, which would not be reached until 2043.
SSE believes that MAG is deliberately exaggerating the medium-term growth outlook for Stansted in order to help justify its impending planning application in early 2018 which will seek permission for 43mppa. SSE has also accused MAG of opportunism because the Government is in the midst of a major consultation on future UK aviation policy which will identify the Government’s priorities for airport expansion. This will not be completed until the end of 2018. Needless damage would be inflicted on the local environment by the building of additional aircraft stands and new taxiways at Stansted which may never be needed, says SSE
Future airport capacity: Heathrow remains the preferred choice
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling used the publication of the new UK aviation forecasts to bolster the case for a third Heathrow runway, saying that the need to expand Heathrow was greater than originally thought and the proposed Heathrow scheme was the one which delivered the greatest benefits in the shortest time frame. He said that London’s five airports would be completely full by the mid-2030s and “four them within a decade” – Stansted being the exception because it was not expected to reach its 35mppa planning cap until 2033, even if there was no new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick.
According to The Times, however, expanding Gatwick rather than Heathrow would bring the biggest boost to the economy and least damage to the environment. The Times points out that new Government analysis of the air quality impacts of a third Heathrow runway show that expanding the west London airport would greatly increase the risk of Britain missing its environmental targets. There is also evidence that the alternative of a second runway at Gatwick would bring greater financial benefits to passengers and the wider economy than initially predicted. A Department for Transport spokesman argued that the figures were misleading and did not take into account the “wider strategic benefits” of Heathrow expansion including long-haul flights, doubling the freight capacity and greater regional connectivity. Transport secretary Chris Grayling, said: “The case for expanding Heathrow is as strong as ever.”
The Government’s claimed economic benefits of a third Heathrow runway have been “trashed” by its latest report, say supporters of Gatwick. The Government has increased the projected economic benefits of the Heathrow project by a fifth to £74bn over 60 years, reports the Telegraph. Heathrow opponents accuse the Government of massaging numbers to support Heathrow ahead of rival Gatwick. Paul McGuinness, chairman of the ‘No Third Runway’ coalition, said the Airports Commission’s findings had been “trashed”, adding: “An inescapable point about the figures is that when it comes to the economic argument, which was one reason Heathrow was backed in the first place, they now show the genuine possibility of Gatwick being ahead”. The Department for Transport acknowledges that while the cumulative benefits delivered by the preferred Heathrow runway proposal remain the highest until the mid-2070s, the total benefits “are slightly lower than would be delivered by Gatwick expansion over the full 60-year assessment”.
The Government’s case for expanding Heathrow has been turned on its head, according to Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate, who went on to say that there was now a serious case for pushing ahead with a new runway at Britain’s second busiest airport. He conceded that the Government could ultimately expand both because all main London airports are expected to be full by the mid-2030s but added that a second runway at Gatwick offered greater economic benefit and less damage to the environment, reports The Times. Meanwhile, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said that most Labour MPs were in favour of a third Heathrow runway, easing fears that the party could have combined with Tory rebels to block the expansion in a House of Commons vote next year. A Heathrow spokeswoman said the new forecasts showed that the need for expansion was now even greater and claimed that the Government had confirmed that Heathrow could be expanded within environmental limits.
Short-haul APD frozen again
In his November budget the Chancellor announced that the standard rate of Air Passenger Duty for short-haul flights (the APD rate paid by 79% of all passengers), is to remain frozen at £13 for the sixth year in a row. However, APD rates for other categories – less of a political issue – will increase in April 2018. A standard seat on a long haul return flight (more than 2,000 miles) will rise by £3 to £78 and premium class APD for long haul flights will rise to £156.
Airports ‘not dirty, polluting things’ says Climate Change Minister
The Government minister responsible for climate change has stated that airports are neither “dirty” nor “polluting”. Perhaps not surprisingly, Claire Perry MP made her remarks when visiting Stansted Airport. The junior minister also appeared to speak out in favour of Stansted expansion, saying that Manchester Airport Group, were “very confident” in their plans, linking them to “opportunities to expand” industry in the area “even further”. She said: “As the Minister for Climate Change, somebody asked me ‘aren’t airports awful, dirty, polluting places?’ Well, the answer is no. We can have growth and job opportunities and we can do it in a way that doesn’t put up emissions.” She cited statistics provided by Stansted Airport as proof of its environmental friendliness, including the fact that 100 per cent of the electrical energy used in its buildings came from renewable sources, but she did not make mention of emissions generated by the aircraft themselves, reported the Hertfordshire Mercury. Claire Perry’s comments were contested by Brian Ross, deputy chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion, who said: “Stansted Airport’s greenhouse gas emissions will be equivalent to about 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017, which is six per cent more than last year. As the number of flights grows, emissions of greenhouse gases grow almost in direct proportion. Emissions will grow even faster if Stansted begins to introduce more long haul flights. The more fuel an aircraft burns, the more CO2 is produced. There’s no getting away from that until we have electric planes.” Brian Ross added: “Claire Perry was an unusual choice for Climate Change Minister; she has consistently voted against measures to tackle climate change since becoming an MP in 2010.”
Global air passenger numbers to reach 7.8bn by 2036
The number of air passengers travelling in 2036 is predicted to be 7.8 billion, nearly double today’s level, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The prediction is based on a 3.6% average compound annual growth rate in the latest update to the association’s 20-year air passenger forecasts. The biggest growth in demand will come from the Asia-Pacific region. “The world needs to prepare for a doubling of passengers in the next 20 years. Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, hailed this as “fantastic news for innovation and prosperity … but a huge challenge for governments and industry ...” Mr de Juniac, formerly the Chief Executive of Air France, made no mention of the fast growing impact of aircraft greenhouse gas emissions upon climate change.
Ryanair puts more eggs in Stansted’s basket …
Ryanair’s growing control of Stansted slots was inadvertently laid bare in the latest Department for Transport forecasts, says SSE. The DfT document states that “Ryanair continues to dominate at Stansted, carrying 68% of the passengers in 2011 and 82% in 2016”. The official CAA figures show that Stansted handled 18.0m passengers in 2011 and 24.3m in 2016 which means that, over that five-year period Ryanair gained 7.7m passengers at Stansted growing from 12.2m to 19.9m whilst all other Stansted airlines lost 1.4m passengers, declining from 5.8m to 4.4m.
The main reason for Ryanair’s growth at Stansted in recent years is understood to be a deal struck with owner Manchester Airports Group (MAG) in September 2013 whereby Ryanair’s airport charges were reduced whilst MAG was given carte blanche to ramp up charges for airport parking, passenger drop off, rent levels for airport shops, restaurants and bureaux de change, and concession charges for car rental, airport taxis and airport hotels, SSE points out. “The result is that Stansted is now the most expensive UK airport in many – if not most – of those areas,” says Brian Ross, SSE deputy chairman. “Stansted has always been highly dependent on Ryanair but that is even more the case now. At the same time, ‘cheap flights’ are becoming more and more of an illusion.”
… but you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs
Continuing unrest among Ryanair pilots following annual leave mismanagement and staff shortages, which triggered the cancellation of over 20,000 flights rolls on. Despite issues with its pilots, Ryanair has bolstered half-year profits by 11 per cent even after suffering a £22 million blow in the wake of its flight cancellation fiasco. The airline said costs leapt 30 per cent due to compensation payments to customers for disruption during September and October alone.
Flights to Greece and Corsica but New York is a “fake”
Greek carrier Air Mediterranean undertook its inaugural flight from Athens to Stansted. Air Corsica says it will launch its first UK service from London Stansted in summer 2018. However, £99 flights from Stansted to New York by Wow Air appear to be fake news, according to the Independent’s travel editor Simon Calder. He reveals the airline will fly passengers to Keflavik airport in Iceland where they must change planes to reach New York. “And there are no £99 one-way fares. It’s not that they have all sold out; they were never there in the first place,” he writes. The “£99” deal is available only as part of a round-trip; coming back will cost substantially more; and that an unexpected “booking fee” is added to the transaction.
Conflicting views on Brexit
Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group which owns British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, has disagreed with Chancellor Philip Hammond over the impact of Brexit on aviation. Mr Hammond previously warned that airlines could be forced to ground flights if no deal can be secured, because there are no fall-back international agreements for aviation. Addressing the House of Commons Transport Committee, Mr Walsh played down the prospect of cancelled flights if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. “We have had this history of bilateral agreements between countries for many, many years. Although aviation is not covered by Word Trade Organisation rules as a fall-back position, there is precedent and we still operate under a complex system of air transit agreements between the UK and many other parts of the world outside the EU,” he said.
Stansted will at long last begin to offer flights to the Gulf. Starting June 2018, Emirates will operate a daily flight from Stansted to Dubai. A spokesman for SSE said that the only surprise is that it has taken so long for one of the Gulf carriers to come to Stansted when direct daily flights to the Gulf have been available from much smaller UK airports, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Birmingham – as well as from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester – for many years.
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