Coalition aviation policy is still green… for now

In advance of the government launching its sustainable aviation framework consultation on Thursday, Natan Doron takes a closer look at the coalition's aviation policy.

Natan Doron is a research assistant at the Fabian Society; he has recently completed an MSc in Environment & Sustainable Development at University College London

Tornado fighter jets aside, it’s been a while since UK aviation policy has been front page material for The Times. Earlier this month, Left Foot Forward warned that aviation policy was becoming increasingly tricky. This week, in advance of the government launching its sustainable aviation framework consultation, 74 captains of industry have written (£) to the Times newspaper to complain that the coalition has no decent plans to address growing demand in the industry.

Phillip Pank, transport correspondent for The Times, writes (£) this morning that:

“A constant complaint from industry sources is that while they are clear what the government does not want – it overturned permission for a third runway at Heathrow and has ruled out new runways at Gatwick and Stansted – they have little idea of what ministers do want.”

The coalition agreement (pdf) promised no new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stanstead. This promise was published under the climate change and energy section of the agreement. In theory, this implies that David Cameron and N ick Clegg think any new runway is a threat to the viability of UK climate change targets.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has been warning of a new “monster” four-runway airport to be built from scratch in the Thames Estuary (no UK airport currently has more than two). This may be part of an electoral strategy that paints him as big business-friendly as well as distinct from his fellow former Bullingdon club members currently in Downing Street, but it provides a challenge to the coalition’s aviation strategy.

Today’s call from big business to accommodate expansion in the aviation industry or risk further damage to the UK’s sluggish recovery has considerably ramped up that challenge. Was the “greenest government ever” simply making symbolic gestures to the environmental lobby? Is Boris’s posturing just free-market, ‘whatever the consequences’ Tory-ism unmaksed?

There is scope for cross-party consensus to be built and agreement reached on new runways in other parts of the UK – Manchester or Birmingham perhaps – but this this is bound to stir environmental opposition. What is certain is that aviation policy is an area where Mr Cameron’s fragile coalition faces a true test of both its environmental and pro-business credentials.

Mid-term turbulence is kicking in.

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