Press release

Emerging thinking: aviation capacity in the UK

Airport Commission invites comments on its emerging thinking.

In a speech today (7 October 2013) at the Centre for London, Sir Howard Davies, Chair of the Airports Commission, set out the commission’s developing views on the UK’s future airport capacity needs.

The Airports Commission’s emerging thinking, on which it is inviting comments, includes:

  • pressure on the UK’s busiest airports is likely to continue to grow even if we take a more conservative view of future aviation demand than the DfT has in the past. This is likely to see levels of future demand in excess of capacity in the south east of England airport system.
  • importantly, this appears to be the case even if future aviation demand is constrained in order to meet the government’s legislated climate change objectives.
  • it is difficult to see how the market alone could resolve the capacity / demand imbalance in the south east. Regional airports are already serving their local markets effectively but it is difficult to see how they can absorb all the excess demand. The tools available to government to influence the location of flights are also very limited.

Taken together, these considerations point to the need for new runway infrastructure in the south east of England in the coming decades.

In his speech Sir Howard said:

Our provisional conclusion is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the south east of England in the coming decades. To rely only on runways currently in operation would be likely to produce a distinctly sub-optimal solution for passengers, connectivity and the economy and would also almost certainly not be the best solution in terms of minimising the overall carbon impact of flights and travel to and from airports.

A mechanism for managing the carbon impacts of aviation will be needed if the UK is to achieve its statutory carbon targets – just as it will in other countries. This is the case whether new runway capacity is provided in the south east or not.

I would be interested in comments on the analysis I have set out today.

The Airports Commission was launched on 2 November 2012. Its terms of reference require that it should report no later than the end of 2013 on:

  • its assessment of the evidence on the nature, scale and timing of the steps needed to maintain the UK’s global hub status
  • its recommendation(s) for immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next 5 years – consistent with credible long term options

Its terms of reference also require that it should report no later than summer 2015 on:

  • its assessment of the options for meeting the UK’s international connectivity needs, including their economic, social and environmental impact
  • its recommendation(s) for the optimum approach to meeting any needs
  • its recommendation(s) for ensuring that the need is met as expeditiously as practicable within the required timescale

The commission has indicated that it would welcome responses commenting on the emerging thinking and analysis set out in the speech.

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