Londoners’ concerns about noise and air pollution from an already expanding Heathrow Airport have been lost amidst the renewed debate over a third runway.
Murad Qureshi AM represents the Labour Party in the London Assembly
With all the talk about the coalition government reconsidering its position on Heathrow, everyone assumes the airport is not expanding and ignores Londoners’ concerns about noise and air pollution.
While Heathrow may have reached its upper limit of flight numbers to and from its runways, the actual numbers of passengers passing through its terminals is most certainly increasing. You only have to witness an A380 plane land at Heathrow, offloading 500-plus passengers to realise Heathrow expansion is a practical reality.
If all aircraft passing through Heathrow were on the same scale, it would be much easier to contemplate the extra tens of millions more passengers which could potentially use the airport.
Currently, it can handle around 66 million passengers and once the redevelopment and construction of the five terminals are completed it will be able to cope with 90 million passengers a year; so who says Heathrow isn’t getting bigger?
Interestingly it is the Arab and Asian airlines who have been bringing in the extra passengers with the mega Airbus A380, with them offering connections with other flights in Middle Eastern hubs like Dubai. Clearly responding to the demands of their customers both business and leisure, without demanding more slots and thus capacity at Heathrow, while offering us the connections still.
So while direct flights maybe not on offer by these airlines, you are certainly being offered very convenient connections and the full plane loads suggest customers are happy with this arrangement.
Furthermore, these same airlines are investing in the UK with Emirates in London sponsoring Arsenal’s new home as the Emirates Stadium and Etihad doing the same in Manchester with Manchester City’s new home the Etihad stadium. This sheds new light on connectitivity and hub issues which you don’t hear from BAA’s campaign for expansion, namely that some airlines seem able to cope better then others with new demands of their customers without direct links to their destinations.
The major concern is the impact which this increasing capacity will have on the immediate local environmental in terms of air quality and noise.
After Central London, Heathrow Airport is the second major hot spot for poor air quality in London, particularly with Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). Poor air quality is leading to the early deaths of at least 4,300 Londoners a year, and the UK is already facing legal action and fines of £300 million for its breaches of EU air pollution limits. While much attention is rightly given to this major public health issue in London, little is directed specifically at Heathrow.
The environmental impact of Heathrow is not exclusive to west London.
Although it is acknowledged that 28 per cent of all people in Europe affected by aircraft noise live under the Heathrow flight paths – some 700,000 people – this does not account for those affected by operational freedom trials currently taking place in Heathrow, on places like Wandsworth, where some 500-plus noise complaints have been made since the start of the trials last November.
The flight noise problem has clearly spread across London, but before we begin to address these issues, there must be an honest and informed analysis of the status quo and the problems. Furthermore, this needs to be done before the government’s consultation on night flights begins towards the end of the year.
So while the current focus may be on whether we should build new runways in London and the South East, we should not forget that with the advancement of technology and the steer towards bigger aircraft, in reality, Heathrow is expanding, carrying more passengers with all the side effects this brings.
What we must do is work out how to manage the resulting air and noise pollution without further burdening Londoners living around the area and beyond in Greater London and be consistent across the whole of London.