Heathrow claims the pandemic strengthens case for expansion

19 Feb, 2022

Heathrow announced their commitments in their latest Net Zero plan, stating that: 

“Aviation is a force for good in the world, but those benefits cannot come at any cost. Climate is an existential threat to aviation as well as to us all personally and must be addressed.” 

Heathrow claims it is committing to Net Zero by 2050 and that

“The good news is that it is possible to take the carbon out of flying through ongoing efficiency improvements, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), zero carbon aircraft and carbon removal projects”

This is unrealistic based on the fact that technologies are not yet developed with the potential to scale up to the current level of flying. Additionally, it is historically shown that increasing efficiency does not decrease emissions because consumption rises to counteract the change. See our Safe Landing response to the UK Jet Zero consultation which outlines our concerns on SAF, zero carbon aircraft and carbon removal projects. 

Furthermore, Heathrow is claiming that the pandemic has strengthened the case for expansion – despite experiencing the worst year in its history.

We’re worried by the claim that the pandemic ‘strengthens the case’ for expanding airport capacity by 50%. Surely Covid-19 has taught us:

  • to act with international solidarity and consistency?
  • that such crises can reduce air traffic?

These growth plans are dangerous to our industry. History has shown that air traffic goes through bubble-and-burst cycles, with an industry crash every 5-10 years. This is always accompanied by redundancies and reduced T&Cs for workers who remain.

It’s surely inevitable that if we continue ‘business-as-usual’ air traffic and airport expansion, we’ll see another industry crash due to either: another economic crisis; another health crisis; the climate crisis and regulations that rapidly reduce aviation emissions and air miles.

The International Energy Agency’s “Net Zero by 2050” report has advised that by 2050 “Business and long-haul leisure air travel does not exceed 2019 levels”. So does it make sense to expand a long-haul airport in the UK where there’s already a high number of flights per person?

As aviation workers, we want our industry leaders to be realistic about the future. While airport and airline expansion may look good for jobs in the short-term, if there’s another economic crisis, health crisis or ‘climate crash’ in a few years time, then workers will suffer.

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