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Aviation: Heathrow aims for a greener future

Plans that it will help Heathrow achieve carbon-neutral growth have been unveiled. The initiative comes ahead of the formal consultation on the details on the project to add a third runway at the airport in west London. The scheme includes action in four key areas: cleaner aircraft technology, improvements to airspace and ground operations, sustainable aviation fuels, and carbon offsetting. It will build on the momentum of technological change within the aviation industry that is making travel more sustainable. Heathrow claims it will use its leadership and market position to capitalise on opportunities to ensure growth is met in a responsible and sustainable way.

Heathrow is aiming for a greener future as plans for the third runway progress. (photo: Heathrow Airport)

On aircraft technology, managers at Heathrow have committed to:

  • Treat environmental performance of aircraft as a key consideration of slot allocations for new flights.

  • Offer free landing fees for a year for the first commercially viable electric flight.

  • Continue offering cheaper landing fees for cleaner and quieter aircraft.

  • Review the infrastructure requirements for charging electric aircraft.

On airspace and ground operations:

  • Support the Government’s plans to modernise airspace, including the potential elimination of routine stacking for aircraft coming to land.

  • Reduce emissions from aircraft on the ground through reduced taxi times, increased access to on-stand power sources, and fewer engines used while moving around the airport.

To promote the use of sustainable alternative fuels:

  • Make Heathrow a leading hub for the development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels by providing the necessary airport infrastructure, and support for pilot projects.

To develop and promote new means of carbon offsetting:

  • Continue investing in UK peatland restoration and other projects to play a key role in developing the next generation of UK carbon offsets.

Feedback on the plan will be sought from the aviation industry, advocacy groups and climate change experts over the coming months. Heathrow Chief Executive, John Holland-Kaye said: “Climate change is the biggest challenge facing our generation… We are committed to taking the lead to deliver carbon neutral growth in aviation, and the plan we launch today sets out the roadmap to get there.”

The Aviation Oracle applauds all initiatives that make aviation “greener”. It will be interesting to learn how Heathrow proposes to prioritise slots based on aircraft environmental performance when the independent firm Airport Coordination Limited (ACL) is responsible for determining which bids are accepted. It is also worth noting that one of the biggest concerns environmental groups have with respect to the Heathrow expansion – emissions from increased surface transport – are not addressed by the latest initiative. Managers have said though that this issue form part of the public consultation on the third runway which will take place next summer.

The southeast of England urgently needs more airport capacity and the government has decided - rightly in the opinion of The Aviation Oracle - that it should be delivered primarily at Heathrow. Over the next year or so Heathrow faces the massive challenge of winning wider public support for the addition of a third runway and construction of more terminal facilities. These new initiatives are no doubt some of the early steps aimed at winning the debate over whether the expansion can be delivered without having a major impact on the local environment.

Text © The Aviation Oracle

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