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Introducing environmental decision making
Introducing environmental decision making

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5.2 The need for an ‘Aviation White Paper’

Since the liberalisation of air transport within the European Union in the 1980s (the privatisation of airlines and airport operators, and deregulation of air travel, e.g. removal of barriers for foreign airline operations), it was essentially left to the private sector to decide on and fund extra airport capacity. The lack of a national strategy in the UK, and the increasingly vociferous local opposition, meant that any new development was becoming practically impossible. For example, the public inquiry concerning the development of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was the longest in British history. The inquiry lasted for over four years (1995–99) and cost in excess of £80 million (Thorpe, 1999). The aviation industry was therefore desperate to avoid a similar situation in future developments.

‘A special birthday? I know just the thing…’
Figure 13 ‘A special birthday? I know just the thing…’

In the year 2000, more than 180 million passengers flew from UK airports, with demand to fly having risen threefold since 1980. By 2001, the aviation industry was estimated to contribute £13 billion to the UK gross domestic product (the gross domestic product is a measure of the amount of economic production of a particular nation in financial terms during a specific time period. This is a measure of national income and output, and is frequently used as an indicator of a nation’s standard of living). Most calculations of the economic benefits of aviation use a methodology developed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which sums the direct, indirect and induced effects of aviation (I will discuss this in more detail later in the case study). But many UK airports are already nearing their capacity limits especially those surrounding the London area (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton – see Figure 14 for locations). This lack of capacity was seen to severely limit any future growth in passenger numbers and economic gain.

Map of main London airports
Figure 14 Map of main London airports

The pressure on the UK government by the aviation industry to provide a long-term strategic plan for air travel is exemplified by the following quote from a regional newspaper:

Jobs, business, tourism and the economy will all suffer unless aviation capacity increases, a new campaign group said today. The Freedom to Fly Coalition* said the Government must settle the problem of capacity in its aviation White Paper due soon.

(Holmes, 2001, p. 4)

*The Freedom to Fly Coalition combined a wide range of interest groups including airlines, airport operators, trades unions and businesses (represented by the British Chambers of Commerce which has a membership of 135,000 businesses).

The pressure on the British government to deliver a long-term strategy that guaranteed airport expansion had never been greater.

Activity 19 Comparing two aviation videos

This activity invites you to watch two video programmes. These have been chosen to portray two very different perspectives on the case study topic. Watch them critically. They are not intended to represent the views of the author or the module team. Their purpose is to illustrate contrasting positions in the air transport debate.

View the Reach for the Sky documentary produced by Undercurrents in 2005, an independent media production company. The video will illustrate the local, regional, national and international contexts of air travel and its various environmental impacts, representing many of the issues of concern to the environmental movement.

As you watch the video, try and focus on the social, spatial and temporal dimensions of the various issues presented.

  1. Which groups of people are involved?
  2. Where are they located?
  3. Over which time period are they involved and/or affected?

Note your answers to these questions – they may be useful later in the unit.

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Reach for the Sky (36 minutes 37 seconds)
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Now, have a look at the video produced by the British Airports Authority (BAA) in 2005 on Heathrow Terminal 5. (Note this video is presented as eight separate short sequences.) How does this video compare to the Reach for the Sky video in terms of social, temporal and spatial dimensions?

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Heathrow Terminal 5 – Passenger experience (3 minutes 54 seconds)
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Heathrow Terminal 5 – Health, safety and welfare
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Heathrow Terminal 5- Training and education
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Heathrow Terminal 5 - Logistics
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Heathrow Terminal 5 - Archaeology
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Heathrow Terminal 5 - Rivers
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Heathrow Terminal 5 - Partnership – risk management
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Heathrow Terminal 5 - Summary
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Discussion

To me, the Reach for the Sky documentary provides a very comprehensive coverage of social, temporal and spatial dimensions. It outlines the historical developments of aviation (post-World War 2) to the present day, the local and global impacts of aviation, and the wide range of social units involved. The last include the perspective of individuals, environmental non-governmental organisations, private businesses and local, regional and national government bodies, not only in the UK but from other countries in Europe and beyond.

BAA’s Heathrow Terminal 5 video focuses, however, on the local social, economic and environmental aspects, with limited consideration of the regional, national and international context and impacts of such a development.

You should now have a flavour of the contrasting pressures the UK government was under during the ‘Aviation White Paper’ process and the complex issues of scale that it had to contend with. The next section will illustrate the steps taken by the UK government and the contribution of a range of stakeholders towards the development of the Aviation White Paper.

Activity 2 should have given you an indication of the various scales in operation. At the most basic level, there are individuals deciding whether or not to fly and/or oppose or promote the aviation industry. At a higher organisational level, there are private enterprises who have a financial imperative while at the same time attempting to deal with pressures from clients, shareholders and government (through regulations) (see Box 1). At a more complex organisational scale, there are governments themselves developing national strategies and negotiating at local, regional, national and international level. Although this case study focuses on a national government’s decision-making process, the other scales of operation should not be forgotten.

Box 4 BAA’s Environmental Management System

BAA was one of the world’s first airport operators to establish an Environmental Management System (EMS) to monitor and control the environmental impacts of its operations. An EMS can be used as a tool to ensure compliance with environmental legislation, where the worst infringements may result in fines, licence revocations and imprisonment. Other benefits of an EMS include cost reductions through increasing efficiency and an improvement in public image. By 2001, BAA had established an informal EMS integrating environmental health and safety management programmes with annual publications stating environmental objectives and targets, which were audited independently. A UNEP/Sustainability Ltd survey published in 2000 identified BAA’s EMS as one of the most comprehensive and ambitious in the world (UNEP/Sustainability, 2000).