Aviation Blog Archive

A couple of entries from the old Pulling the Wool blog.

Environment and cheap air travel


Air travel and particularly cheap air travel has become a major band wagon for politicians who wish to portray green credentials.

Climate change minister Ian Pearson has attacked the airlines for not doing enough and in particular picking out Ryanair as the "irresponsible face of capitalism".

While I think that Ryanair's boss Michael O'Leary is an unpleasant person, who attracts criticism, I think the ministers comments are not well thought out.

While Ryanair started out with old aircraft they are now using mostly new planes which are as fuel efficient as current technology will allow. No doubt as better technology comes along Ryanair will embrace it.

There are of course limits to technological improvements, Sadi Carnot, an officer in Napoleon's army, knew that jet engines could only reach a certain level of efficiency and no more. Getting that last few percent will cost a lot in research and development, and that will only happen if we have healthy airlines buying new aircraft. It will not come from Gordon Brown and his passenger tax nor will it come from the Green parties who would have us shut down the aviation industry altogether.

The Ryanair/Eastjet model does at least mean that their planes fly reasonably full most of the time, while other airlines allocate vast amounts of space to first class and business passengers increasing the latter's carbon emissions per passenger journey considerably.

One commentator on the BBC's web site proposed that flying should be for essential journeys only. Are Tony Blair's and his family's flights to sunny places, several times a year, essential journeys, if he and his government really believed in what they say he would holiday in the UK.

Equally when Tony is on official business does flying with a plane load of journalists constitute essential journeys for all concerned. Does a businessman flying to Asia to arrange shipments of cheap manufactured goods to Europe constitute an essential journey. Air travel has to be available to all who wish to fly and should not be rationed by price.

What our politicians need to wake up to is that Britain and even Europe acting alone will make very little difference to global emissions. Airlines contribute about 3% of the total, power generation, heating and road travel contribute considerably more.

Many suggest that we need a carbon trading scheme. Such a scheme is artificial in that polluters can buy carbon allowances from people who reduce their pollution levels. The whole scheme of course will be a bureaucratic nightmare, open to abuse and hard to police. No doubt some individuals will make a great deal of money from it.

Other than investing in modern aircraft there is little the airlines can do to reduce carbon emissions. We as a society have to decide that flying should be freely available for all to use or not.

I am not suggesting complacency, practical measures I would take are,

Integrating Europe's air traffic control would reduce carbon emissions by reducing takeoff and landing delays.

Discouraging stopover flights, many people who fly into Heathrow then fly out on connecting flights to other destinations. Good for the airlines but bad for carbon.

Put air travel on the same taxation basis as other forms of travel such as the railways, particularly regarding fuel duties and VAT.

If needed at all, rather than a passenger tax it would be better to tax the whole plane per flight, irrespective of the number of passengers onboard. This would encourage the airlines to market and plan for fuller planes.

Investment in bio aviation fuel technology.

Responce to the Future Development of Air Transport 2003


This is a response to the document:-

The Future Development of Air Transport in the United Kingdom - South East Consultation Document.

My main contribution to the debate is to point out the glaring omission of one of the Southeast's major airfields, namely Boscombe Down. This airfield has very little flying activity at present, but has significant commercial assets. They are:-

1) The airfield has a substantial 3 km runway, quite rare in the UK, and its orientation is a favourable southwest/ northeast direction.

2) Location, the airfield is within 2 km of a major east west trunk road, the A303, connecting London and the southwest.

3) Location, the main London Waterloo to Exeter railway line runs close to the airfield.

4) The airfield is essentially rural so noise and other environmental issues would be limited.

5) With limited agricultural land acquisition, to the southeast, a second widely spaced runway would be possible when demand warranted it.

6) The airfield is close to the major tourist attractions of Stonehenge and Salisbury, but not so close as to depreciate their value.

Boscombe Down could become the major regional airport serving the South and Southwest with a full range of domestic and international services, both short and long haul, and freight.

Its position is such that it would also provide a substantial increase in capacity to the southeast, relieving pressure on Heathrow and Gatwick. The catchment area charts for both these airports show that a useful fraction of their passenger base comes from the South and Southwest, the fact that many of them will have driven past Boscombe Down and face another 1.5 to 3.0 hours of driving, including the M25, should not be overlooked.

Boscombe Down could be operational in 2 to 4 years, while new runways at the major London airports will take 10 to 15 years, think of Terminal 5.

Catchment Area.

With the proximity of the A303 trunk road, the airports natural catchment area would be Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

With upgrades to the A36, A4 and A46 trunk roads it would also be attractive to South Wales and the Bristol/Bath area, particularly regarding international long haul flights. Cardiff and Bristol airports would continue to thrive on short haul routes.

As services develop passengers from West Sussex, Berkshire and South Oxfordshire might also find the airport an attractive alternative Heathrow and Gatwick.

Surface Developments.

The roads in the area need upgrading with or without a major airport development. The airport would provide a focus for the road planners.

The A303 trunk road is already carrying much of the potential passenger base, currently on their way to and from the London airports. Anyone who has travelled to Exeter and beyond on a summer weekend will appreciate that the road needs upgrading to a dual carriageway all the way to Penzance, the single carriageway sections cause considerable holdups. The area around Stonehenge is one such area.

The planners have also been dithering on upgrading the A36 between Southampton and Bristol, with a bypass for Salisbury. The airport would make it desirable to take the bypass to the north of Salisbury keeping it away from the sensitive water meadows to the south.

The road links to Swindon and the M4 would need to be improved, both the A345 and A346 would need upgrading perhaps with a bypass for Marlborough.

The Waterloo to Exeter railway line would need a new spur into the airport. (A disused spur line to Amesbury used to pass within 500 metres of the runway). Services could then run to Exeter, Waterloo and Southampton.

Airport Developments.

A new terminal would be needed, properly designed it would be extended as demand increased. Also car parks, new access roads, railway station and other buildings and services would need to be established.

New taxi ways would eventually be needed to maximise airport capacity.

The orientation of the runway is such that it would not impact on military flying over Salisbury plain.

Air Services.

Initially Boscombe Down would be adopted by one or more of the no frills airlines as it would have a potential neither Southampton nor Bournemouth airports could hope to have.

Southampton airport is small, with a short runway and little growth potential.

Bournemouth is poorly located in relation to the potential market. It is difficult to get to from many areas of the South and South West, its off the beaten track. While Buzz has decided to offer services there I see it very much as a Hobson's choice, none of the south's existing airports are really suitable. The owners of Bournemouth airport are still undecided about a new Terminal, I imagine they are waiting for the white paper and feedback from Buzz.

Other operators, both schedule and charter, would warm to Boscombe Down as its potential become obvious. Southampton is the home port for many cruise ships. These ships depend on passengers flying in from destinations all round the world. Having adequate facilities for long haul charter flights would only add to the cruise experience.


The long runway would be ideal for serious freight operations. With the port of Southampton close by, freight operations have the potential to be integrated and coordinated.

Boscombe Down's current role.

Currently the airport is used by the MOD and Qinetiq to calibrate aircraft. This involves relatively little flying.

The work is such that it could be done from any airfield, perhaps Yeovilton or Chivenor amongst others. The current airfield activities in no way justify tying up such a valuable asset.

Concluding this section, Boscombe Down could provide much needed relief to the South East's airports and seriously improve the air services in the South and South West.

Comments on other aspects of the study document:-

The 40 million or so people who do not live in and around London have always disliked the needed to travel to a London airport for international travel.

This has been perpetuated by the major airlines, such as BA, who have limited demand for air travel by high prices and there desire to be seen as global players. The prestige of being a global player has no value whatsoever to the average passenger.

The advent of no frills airlines has shown another way, with direct flights to international destinations, albeit destinations with a strong leisure appeal. They have shown that local regional airports can provide the desired services, and no frills operators will undoubtedly change and adapt to accommodate the needs of the business traveller and, sooner rather than later, introduce new long haul destinations (a return of Laker type Skytrain services).

If this is to continue with regional airports reaching there full potential then I believe that the southeast must be constrained in growth.

I see the Southeast's airports developments as:-


Development would be limited to Terminal 5. I see no need for a new runway, it would impact on too many people, particularly regarding noise and traffic congestion, and having a runway alongside the M4 will be a recipe for road accidents.

Heathrow and its natural catchment area is large enough to survive as it is, it is of no importance to the average passenger that its world ranking is allowed to slip. It will be able to offer a full range of practical destinations just as it does today, though more competition between airlines would be welcome.

With regard to the latter a "use it or lose it" policy should be adopted as regard slots. Also a fairer way of allocating slots must be developed, particularly for newcomers. Ultimately lower fares at Stansted and Gatwick (and Boscombe Down if adopted) would put pressure on Heathrow operators, particularly BA, to move towards lower fares. Ultimately slots at Heathrow will become less sort after as the airport turns more to its geographic roles of serving London and the western home counties.

The large hub airport with waves of aircraft is in the decline. Flying people into Heathrow only to then transfer them out again, to there ultimate destination, is a waste of precious slots. The present 15M transfer passengers represents about 302 takeoff's and landings per day.

People now want point to point services, preferably from local airports, and this applies all round the world. Someone, for example, flying from Cairo to the USA would much prefer to go direct rather than through Heathrow. If a stop had to made, in this example, it would be better made at New York as that airport could offer far more USA destinations than Heathrow ever could.

Table 3.2 in the study document is really quite telling, the main benefit in building more runways around London is that the airlines hope to handle 60M transfer passengers. Great for the airlines maybe, but not for people who have to listen to the planes taking off or suffering other environmental damage.

Equally additional London runways does not solve the dilemma as to whether it is better for 25M south easterners to travel to the regions or 26M regional passengers travel to London airports. If one takes the transfer passengers out of the equation, then a balanced development could take place both in the regions and at Stansted so as to minimise this movement of people away from their local airport or region.

The wave concept is not really practical at Heathrow as one airline needs to control most of the flights to make it work. It works in the USA as a single airline tends to dominate a particular hub airport. No airline at Heathrow enjoys this position. Equally the only profitable airlines in the USA today do not use the wave concept.

A traditional argument for a hub is that it allows more routes and a higher frequency of service. Why then can you not fly from Heathrow to Friedrichshafen for example, Ryanair does from Stansted. The no frills airlines have shown that routes and frequency is much more to do with low fares than transfer passengers.

Historically Heathrow's strength was that it is the most westerly major airport in Europe. With limited range aircraft it was a natural staging post across the Atlantic. Modern aircraft do not suffer these range problems.


Gatwick will move to being a regional airport with a mixture of no frills and high fare airlines serving London, Sussex and Kent. Being tucked away in the south east corner of the UK it will cease to attract people from the regions as regional airports develop. The existing runway will suffice.


Stansted is better placed to serve the nation, again offering a mixture of no frills and high fare airlines serving North London and East Anglia.

I believe it is desirable to build a second runway and associated terminal facilities to handle growth originating in the south east. It should grow as demand dictated from its natural catchment area.

Luton Airport.

Luton should be allowed to develop as natural demand dictates. Runway extension and or orientation should be decided on economic and environmental grounds.


If Cliffe is built I see it as a replacement for Heathrow. This could occur when Stansted's second runway, a new Midlands airport and Boscombe, if appropriate, were up and running. Closure of Heathrow would benefit hundreds of thousands of people environmentally.

New Midlands Airport.

Its about time that the 9.5M people of the Midlands had a decent International airport offering a full range of long and short haul services.

I believe it is essential to earmark essential land around airports for airport expansion. Finally all military airfields should be entered into the study, we have a small Air Force but they use a lot of real estate.