The court of appeal ruling means that there must be an urgent review and update of UK aviation policy, not just in respect of the third runway at Heathrow, but also for the wider sector. The airports national policy statement must be amended so it explains clearly how it relates to the government’s wider policy on climate change including the Paris Agreement.
Airport and aviation operators know they have a responsibility to decarbonise, just as all other segments of the economy do. The UK aviation sector, including Heathrow, has already made a clear commitment to reduce carbon impact in the air and on the ground by committing to going net zero by 2050. The focus will now be on positioning the UK to become a leader in the green technologies of the future, including sustainable aviation fuels and short haul electric flight, creating highly skilled and well-paid jobs in the process.
The work on the Development Consent Order submission has been shaped by Heathrow’s strong commitment to this and a clear roadmap has been set-out for achieving net-zero, regardless of what the government has previously required. We have worked closely with Heathrow to respond to this challenge, modelling scenarios and working to develop mitigation plans that will bring carbon emissions down. Heathrow declared itself carbon neutral for infrastructure just this year, recognising its duty to actively cut its embodied and operational emissions, and accepting the commercial hit involved in externally offsetting residual carbon.
As one of the UK’s largest infrastructure projects the third runway expansion offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to advance infrastructure industry practices. On the expansion project, Heathrow has already set standards for carbon efficiency that are far ahead of most other organisations and projects. To decarbonise construction, the construction industry must develop materials, equipment and techniques that are consistent with a net-zero future. Major projects create a means of achieving that and driving wider change. Cross sector knowledge sharing is already helping to tackle the need for decarbonisation across all infrastructure assets.
The aviation industry is increasing its research and development into sustainable fuels and electric propulsion. With the right regulatory and policy support performance can undoubtedly be pushed further. With the skills and experience we have at our disposal, there is a huge opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in the development of power sources that drive sustainable aviation, while advancing towards the ultimate goal of net-zero.