Thursday, 18 June 2009

Letter of objection from some of my residents re airport expansion

Farnborough Planning Application for Increased Capacity

Some commentary from concerned residents:

There are some serious flaws in a number of TAG’s (the airport owner’s) arguments which we seek to highlight herein. TAG, with vast resources of cash behind them, have undertaken a most professional job of preparing a master plan and myriad facts and figures on the environmental front. But the fact of the matter is that they want these additional flights to shorten the period over which they can make a return on their investment. Their original business model was flawed and now they want to change the goal-posts to the disadvantage of the local environment and local citizens. Further economic benefits are grossly over-exaggerated. The key points in question are:

The perceived need for a 79% increase

TAG claim/imply that capacity in the South East UK cannot meet demand from business aviation. That is categorically not true. Their key competitor, Biggin Hill airport, closer to central London but with the same opening hours as Farnborough, has plenty of spare capacity for increased flights. Like Farnborough, Biggin is dedicated to business aviation and has no scheduled services. In addition to Biggin, several other airfields with an hour’s drive from London, the core destination for Farnborough’s passengers, have ample capacity to cater for future growth including Southend, Cambridge, Cranfield and Oxford. In the case of Cambridge and Oxford, both have recently invested significantly in dedicated business aviation terminals whilst Oxford see’s less than a third of it’s annual capacity limit.

Luton, Stansted and Heathrow are indeed busy with commercial traffic, but plenty of business aircraft slots are still available today and with the prospect of a third runway at Heathrow, even they will have additional capacity at some point in the future.

Any argument that there is nowhere else for future London-oriented business aviation traffic growth to go is preposterous and wholly incorrect. Indeed it is completely misleading.

Exaggerated claims for new job creation

TAG claim there are over 50 companies based on the airfield providing for 1148 full time equivalent jobs. The application implies that with the increased movements there could be another 1,880 direct, indirect and induced jobs created by 2019. This is an absurd figure. The vast majority of employment created as a consequence of the existence of the airport is already in place. All the positions relating to running the airport are filled with a handful of extra ground handling jobs perhaps necessary to deal with the extra movements anticipated.

Operators based at the airport may increase numbers of pilots to cater for fleet growth. Otherwise, the employment levels would remain pretty close to what already exists. It is ridiculously misguided to assume there would be a doubling of related employment levels. Increased use in the main will come from more aircraft visiting the airport from elsewhere – they don’t live at the airport, therefore there is no additional employment created as a consequence of those aircraft visiting. They are not talking about airline traffic where the footfall of passengers create other retail opportunities within and around the airport. Business jet passengers do not want to stay in Farnborough, they are 95% destined or originated from London.

Environmental Impact – Facts vs. Fallacy

Trying to baffle the lay public with noise contour charts, detailed analysis on NOx and CO2 emissions and a myriad of other professionally-produced charts and tables does not get away from the blindingly obvious fact that a 79% increase in traffic is just that -79% more flights. That may not equate directly to 79% more emissions but anyone can argue that 22,000 additional flights a year inevitably creates more nuisance, disturbance and a less acceptable environment for anyone living in the vicinity. Who on earth are TAG trying to kid that this will have moderate to negligible effect on the local environment – of course it will.

For sure, aircraft will tend to get quieter in years to come as technology improves, but aircraft are designed to last for decades, not years, so todays aircraft will still be flying, making the same noise and producing the same CO2 and NOx levels in 2019.

Farnborough Airport/TAG claim that they will phase out Stage III (ICAO Chapter III) jets and only permit stage IV jets (a measurement of their noise footprint) access after five years. They cannot begin to meet that commitment without shooting themselves in the foot, as the vast majority of jets flying today do not meet stage IV noise criteria. Are they really going to refuse access to the vast majority of their current client base overnight? – extremely unlikely. Were they to be granted permission for these increased movements, the local authority should impose by Section 106 agreement or otherwise, a strict year-by-year allowance for aircraft movements with less than stage IV compliance and any breach of those quotas should be punishable by a levy for each stage III movement undertaken. TAG will have to produce verifiable data on the exact model type and serial number of each aircraft movement for this to be implemented – generic aircraft model names are inadequate for this monitoring task.

Rather than imposing increased access pricing to partially compensate for the environmental impact of their activity, were the increased capacity permitted, the first thing TAG would do is to radically reduce prices to be more competitive and to increase throughput as quickly as possible. This completely flies in the face of a ‘polluter pays’ consensus.

Pure and simple, this is all about making money for TAG and their investors, trying to get a return on the not insignificant investment they have made in the last decade. From the outset they knew exactly what the constraints were to be, but their business model hasn’t stacked-up, they got their numbers wrong. They’ve spent too much money on developing an airport which had very clear and concise constraints placed upon it when changing over from a military airport to a civil airport. They want a return on their investment over a much shorter term than would now appear to be necessary. That’s entirely their problem and nobody else’s.
Why should the local region have to put up with more movements from 07:00 hr to possibly 23:00 hrs because TAG got their figures wrong?

There’s no moral argument for this. Peripheral prosperity of the region will remain virtually unchanged whether there are 28,000 business jets or 50,000 business jets flying into that piece of tarmac. It will make little to no difference on any further inward investment – the utility is already there and has already played its part in the economic development of Farnborough town.

One blatantly obvious fact that seems to be hidden in all references to this proposal is that business aviation has just about the worse level of emissions per passenger-mile of all sectors of aviation. Average passenger loads tend to be 2 to 3 passengers a trip regardless of the aircraft size and as such one can have a transatlantic jet producing the same CO2 or NOx volumes as a small airliner with a just handful of passengers. The moral argument in today’s climate for allowing yet more over-polluting flights simply isn’t there.

If one bends on the issue of capacity limitations now, in a matter of years, they will come back with requests for an extension of operating hours, then ultimately one runs the risk of the doors being open to a public enquiry in the future on the use of the runway for commercial (scheduled) services should the UK fail to build any further runways in the decades to come for which Farnborough has considerable viability – then we are really in trouble.

Do not open those doors today.

Farnborough Residents
18 June 2009

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A good overview of the relevant issues.

Also see

- Farnborough Airport to double the number of flights?