LETTER: Cutting air travel is essential choice

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Cllr Haigh’s comments (WSCT 20.11.2014) about improving cycle and rail infrastructure are spot on but her analysis of the benefits of air transport is over simplistic and misleading.

Cllr Haigh recently voiced her support for a second runway at Gatwick - involving 40,000 more supporting jobs than we have local people to fill; 120,000 more people than we have places for them to live; more than twice as many aircraft flights than we need; more than twice as much noise and air pollution than we want; and so on.

According to www.gatwickairport.com, ‘Gatwick serves around 200 destinations [more than Heathrow and any other UK airport] in 90 countries for 34 million passengers a year on short and long haul point-to-point services’.

That is more than enough for everyone, for miles around Gatwick, to fly many times each year. If the number of flights is more than doubled then the obvious conclusion is that the extra flights would be filled by people travelling by road and rail from even further away – generating more noise, air pollution and traffic congestion on their way to Gatwick.

The irony would be that, to reach Gatwick, many of those passengers would travel away from, sometimes past, nearer regional airports - like Stansted and Luton (which are running considerably below capacity).

Expanding Gatwick (which is itself running below capacity) is unnecessary and would be detrimental to the national economy, make worse the North-South (and East-West) divide; would be detrimental to the global environment and very detrimental to our local environment.

Cllr Haigh justifies her presumption that we should fly more often and drive less often by quoting some statistics – ‘greenhouse gas emissions for Europe… transport is 25 per cent… of this 17.9 per cent is due to road transport and 3.1 per cent to aviation... Carbon emissions [of] a large petrol driven car with one occupant is worse… per kilometre than a short haul flight’. However, those statistics are only a part of a complex picture.

For example, the total global warming impact of each flight is thought to be more than twice the carbon emissions (research ‘aviation multiplier’). Also, the standard way to account for emissions for an international flight is to allocate half to the country of departure and half to the country of arrival.

However, European residents take up two-thirds of the seats on the average plane landing at or taking off from a European airport. The official statistics are effectively offloading the emissions of Europeans onto the countries travellers are visiting.

Aircraft will continue to rely on inefficient and polluting combustion engines for the foreseeable future. On the other hand road and rail vehicles are already achieving considerable improvements through the use of hybrid, electric and, soon, hydrogen propulsion.

The distances flying permits can result in the production of more CO2 per person per day than the average by car in a year. Between 1990 and 2004, despite improvements in aircraft fuel efficiencies and a reduction in business travel, the total UK CO2 emissions from aircraft doubled. Unless this growth is stopped, flying will soon add more emissions than all the cuts we make elsewhere.

The majority of people who are causing this harmful and environmentally damaging pollution are financially well off. The people who are most vulnerable are the poorest inhabitants of the poorest nations, the great majority of whom will never afford to fly.

Cllr Haigh asked: ‘What would we change to protect our planet?’

For anyone concerned about their contribution to global warming, cutting back on air travel is an obvious and essential choice.

Gatwick is big enough.


Tennyson Close, Horsham