Safe Landing responds to Farnborough Airport Expansion Consultation

18 Oct, 2023

Safe Landing recently responded to the Farnborough Airport Expansion Consultation, which closed on 18th October 2023.

Read our full response to the consultation here: Farnborough Airport Expansion Consultation – Safe Landing Response

“As a former pilot, it seems clear to me we need to decelerate our lives and provide genuinely sustainable clean transport for the masses, rather than continue to expand super-polluting private jet airports which cater to a tiny minority of ultra-wealthy individuals.”

– Todd Smith, member of Safe Landing

Safe Landing’s view on expanding private jet operations during a climate emergency

As a group, we don’t believe that the future of sustainable air travel will include a great increase in private flights. This is because private jets are a very inefficient mode of transport and are therefore an inefficient use of limited resources. Read our detailed blog post on this here: http://safe-landing.org/private-jets-climate-crisis

We have been quoted in various BBC articles explaining our opposition to ‘business-as-usual’ expansion of private jet operations at Farnborough: https://safe-landing.org/farnborough-airport-expansion

There is evidence that both public opinion and political opinion is turning against private jets. Various high-profile protests have taken place around private aviation facilities and many politicians are talking about the need to curb private jet use. This is against the backdrop of the climate crisis and a cost-of-living crisis that has seen fuel prices rise substantially for motorists, whilst wealthy private jet owners can continue to fill their aircraft up tax free.

Zero tax on Aviation Fuel

Did you know there is no tax on aviation fuel? – Climate Protestor, Sunita, at COP26 in Glasgow

The UK Citizens’ Assemblies on Climate which took place in 2020 recommended policies including an increased rate of tax for frequent flyers and private jets, and even complete bans. Perhaps surprisingly, aviation workers and associated trade unions are also on board with this. For instance, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), in their “A Zero Carbon Future for the Aviation Sector” report recommended:

“The use of private jets must be severely curbed through new taxes now, followed by flight restrictions for any carbon-emitting private flights after 2030.”

“Incentives that decrease or remove the least useful functions of aviation should also be introduced. Such policies should include bans on private jets”

“Private jet flights have a much higher carbon footprint than commercial planes, which is compounded by significant growth in the sector, as the rate of growth in private jet flights outstrips that of commercial flights. To ensure that the private jet industry is sustainable, from 2030 onwards, only zero-carbon private flights (such as battery powered flights) should be allowed. Before 2030, additional taxes should be raised on private flights, with the exception of private flights that have a social or safety maintenance purpose (such as essential medical supplies).”

 – International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

Given the degree of momentum behind these proposals, we view it as highly likely that policies will emerge over the coming decade, if not within the next few years, that are aimed to specifically tax and curtail private jet traffic. This makes any investments geared towards airport infrastructure catering to increased private jet flights a risky proposition. We were invited on to BBC Radio Surrey to explain this. You can view both the full segment, including comments from locals and the Farnborough Airport CEO Simon Geere (13 mins), or the segment of Finlay talking at the end (5 mins) below:

FULL SEGMENT (13 minutes):

FINLAY’S SEGMENT (5 minutes):

 

Our vision of an alternative, more sustainable, plan for Farnborough

However, we can see an alternative route through this. Farnborough could make sensible, forward-thinking investments which could transform the airport and make it future-fit for the genuinely sustainable future of air travel.

For example: rather than continuing to expand for business-as-usual private jet flights, Farnborough could pivot to infrastructure (e.g. terminals, gates, charging/refuelling equipment) catering to hydrogen-powered turboprop aircraft flown by regional airline operators. See for instance the aircraft being developed by ZeroAvia, Universal Hydrogen, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, GKN, and others, and the ‘Ecojet’ airline model being proposed by Ecotricity.

Ecotricity have announced the launch of ‘Ecojet’, “the world’s first Electric Airline”

This could position the airport as the ‘low-carbon airport hub’ for London and allow e.g. families from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Western Europe to visit London by air if more sustainable ground transport options are too difficult ,or they need to travel more quickly.

We urge the airport to pause its current expansion plans, and reconsider the investments needed to reconfigure the airport in this regard. This will also ensure a sustainable future for the airport and associated secure and stable careers for aviation workers at Farnborough.

 

The ‘economic’ argument

Listening to the radio interview above, it’s clear that the airport and their CEO, Simon Geere, are focusing attention on the apparent ‘economic benefits’ that expanding private jet operations would allegedly provide. Listening to our radio interview response, it’s clear we have a different opinion, so why is this?

Currently, a lack of effective government policies and market forces are driving an overall predicted doubling of air traffic every fifteen years. Given our industry has no easy technological fix for decarbonisation, this is completely at odds with the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the UK Government’s legally binding carbon budget targets. It’s also incredibly dangerous to the future of our industry. If we continue down our current path of business-as-usual, there will soon be no air travel, or indeed tourism full stop, in many regions of the world. The shocking scenes of wildfires this summer in popular tourist destinations like Hawaii and Rhodes should provide ample evidence of this, and we expect next year to likely be even worse. We’ve written extensively about this ‘new abnormal’ and the risks it poses to air travel.

Storms and wildfires kill seven in Italy as extreme weather continues | Italy | The Guardian

Palermo’s airport on Sicily was forced to shut this summer as firefighters battled a blaze at its perimeter

Unchecked air traffic growth at Farnborough may well be in response to a forecast for demand (due to rising inequality during a cost-of-living crisis that has seen many suffer economically, while the number of multi-millionaires and billionaires has grown, leading to a boom in private jet sales), but communities, workers and government should retain the ability to decide what is best for the future of Farnborough, the aviation industry, and the UK’s net-zero strategy.

More widely, the increase of private jet flights – which will lead to increased CO2 and non-CO2 effects – is dangerous during a climate crisis, and will make the UK’s legally binding commitments to meet approaching carbon budgets (the fourth [2023-2027], fifth [2028-2032] and sixth [2033-2037] carbon budgets) more difficult to achieve.

Graph from the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF)

The forecast market demand for more private jet air traffic stems not from whether or not such flights are environmentally sound, or economically justified. Instead it comes from a lack of credible industrial strategy to decarbonise aviation and a lack of effective policies delivered by the UK Government. Once such policies, which we view as inevitable, are delivered – and this includes higher taxation of private jets and curbing private jet air traffic – we expect forecasts of private/business aviation market demand to be significantly altered.

On the other hand, it’s more likely that there will be a favourable policy regime supporting the development and use of so-called “zero emissions” regional electric or hydrogen powered aircraft by commercial airlines.

As such, if the owners of Farnborough Airport genuinely want to plan robustly for the ‘long-term future’ of the airport, we recommend forecasting for a radical overhaul of the air transport network, and towards the types of high-efficiency, low-carbon aircraft which may fly its routes.

 

The opportunity for Farnborough if it diverts from its current flightpath

Farnborough has challenges, but also has unique opportunities to become the first UK airport of the future:

  • Private / “business” jets are not the future of sustainable air travel – they are the least efficient mode of air transport.
  • There’s a huge business and employment risk to the region by preparing for an industry – private aviation – that is likely to be highly regulated compared to today.
  • There is a huge potential for transitioning the airport to cater for medium-range electric/hydrogen aircraft that can be a more of a mass-transit option, with high capacity
    factors. These will be ‘regional’ to e.g. Ireland, Scotland, Western Europe initially – e.g. within a 2000km radius.
  • Other “London” airports e.g. Heathrow/Gatwick will struggle to cater for a higher quantity of smaller capacity electric / hydrogen aircraft.
  • If you use Farnborough to cater to small electric/hydrogen aircraft – these will have very different routes and customers than private jets.
  • These should produce far less noise, carbon emissions, and pollution – benefitting climate and health. They’ll also produce more jobs!!

Any increase in private jet air traffic will decrease the quality of local resident’s lives as noise and air pollution will increase, whatever measures you put in place. However, a transition to electric/hydrogen propulsion would unlock significantly lower air and noise pollution levels.

Airbus reveals hydrogen 'plane pods' concept – EURACTIV.com

Regional hydrogen-powered airliner concept from Airbus

 

Summary

Expansion of business-as-usual private jet flights will be a bad move from both an environmental and an economic perspective. No amount of token funding for ‘local sustainability’ projects will address this.

We must recognise that we have a limited carbon budget remaining before we fly past the 1.5ºC of global warming threshold that may lead to uncontrolled and irreversible climate breakdown. In addition, we have a limited supply of alternative energy sources: be that renewable electricity or bioenergy. There are clearly many competing sectors and uses for these resources, and different activities have different levels of socio-economic benefit and environmental impact.

Private jets are 10 times more fuel and carbon intensive than conventional airliners, and 50 times more polluting than trains. A four-hour private flight emits as much as the average European person does in a year:

Private Jets vs. other uses

A private jet can produce as much CO2 in 4 hours as the average European does in 1 year

Put simply: for every hour spent in a private jet, 10 other people could have spent an hour travelling by commercial airline, while using up the same amount of resources. Alternatively, many more people could heat their homes or have food produced and delivered. As such, private jet flights do not constitute a sensible or rational use of resources during a climate emergency.

Aviation workers are trained to put safety first and to identify and mitigate potential threats. As even Heathrow Airport declared in their recent Net Zero Plan (2022):

“Climate is an existential threat to aviation as well as to us all personally and must be addressed. The risk to the sector is not just opposition to airport expansion and flight shaming. It is the real impact of climate change. No one will fly to coastal cities or tropical islands that are under water. The wider impacts of dangerous global heating – extreme weather, food and water shortages – would have a huge impact on our global society and economy. […] This is the decade to make a difference.”

– Heathrow Airport, 2022

Expanding private jet operations is therefore not a productive use of our time.

Farnborough’s proposed expansion appears wholly inconsistent with the action required to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement: namely a rapid reduction in emissions – particularly from the relatively high-income, high-emitting countries, individuals and organisations who are also the most responsible for emissions. For countries such as the UK, where we already have a far higher number of per capita flights than the global average, and as such, where our aviation emissions account for a far higher % of our overall greenhouse gas emissions, there will be an imperative to fly less. From our perspective, this feels inescapable.

Against a backdrop of projected rising emissions to 2030, we’re likely to have blown our global carbon budget for 1.5°C of warming within the next decade. Therefore, it appears that our industry is hurtling towards a cliff-edge of severe regulations in order to dramatically limit emissions within a very short time frame. Expanding now will shrink that window further still. This is a dangerous flightpath, and there may be no safe landing for aviation workers.

We note that we presented our view on the issues with Farnborough’s proposals to the Farnborough Aerodrome Consultative Committee in June 2023 and received no response.

We urge Farnborough to reconsider their proposals, and offer our support should they be open to alternatives which aim to secure a safer future for both the planet and for workers.

Useful links

You can read Possible’s handy guide for submitting a response to the consultation here: https://www.wearepossible.org/actions-blog/stop-the-expansion-of-the-uks-largest-private-jet-airport

Sign a petition to ‘Stop expansion of Farnborough Airport’ here: https://www.change.org/p/petition-against-expansion-of-farnborough-airport

Watch a video explaining the climate, social, and economic injustices of private flights here: https://youtu.be/NW_hH3xCiAY?si=J7fYrlXaCVvgiD8u

Sign a UK Government petition to “Tax private jet flights fairly and phase out kerosene private jets” here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/641289

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