18 October 2012

Heathrow closure: 2/2 - it will not happen

If the points mentioned in the previous blog are not sufficient to convince anybody about the reasons for keeping Heathrow open,then there are still many more to discuss to clarify the future of the airport.

In the Mayor of London´s Transport Strategy report of June 2010, it states on page 242 
 "The international connectivity that aviation provides is crucial to the competitiveness of London´s economy in this era of globalisation. Therefore, strict limits on aviation growth in the London area are not tenable, nor would be effective with demand shifting to competing aviation hubs."

So, the Mayor, Boris Johnson, recognises the need for new runways. Actually, no; the reality of the situation is much more cynical. He does want a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary but not at the existing London airports.
The answer why is quite clear.

1 - Votes. His present constituency is Greater London, and not wider - roughly that area which is encompassed within the orbital motorway round London (M25) . The City and Heathrow airports are inside that ring while Gatwick, Stansted and Luton are outside. To propose any of those three airports to be designated a hub (as opposed to Heathrow) he could be clearly accused of "passing the buck" - especially as two of them form part of  "the Conservative Party" heartlands. By, firstly, proposing a new hub in the Thames Estuary, and later unashamedly supporting any other person or group (such as  Foster and Partners and  Gensler architects) who propose any alternative in the Estuary he is seen as grasping at straws.
 Despite the extremely strong arguments against any estuary airport Mayor Boris perceives himself as the politician who solves two problems (a) providing the needed expansion of runway capacity in the South East of England and (b) reducing the pollution (noise and fumes) levels in the capital so as to achieve the targets(not already met) to the satisfaction of Brussels. Achieving that, the voters of London might well thank him for it, but those affected (not his constituents/voters) by any new airport most certainly would not. The air traffic controllers  as well as the councils of Medway and the county of Kent have already come out against such an Estuary airport.This is not for the general good as he pretends but pure, egoistical, cynical politicking - nothing else.

2 - As was mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as the previous blog, the British government is charged with reducing air pollution - whatever the cause. The London Assembly, under the Mayor, has to put this into practice. As you can see on the same page 242  of the strategy report, the effect of aviation pollution is not large compared to other forms of road transport, with both taxis and cars (separately) having greater emissions of CO2. In the previous blog you saw that 22% of emissions are attributable to transport of which 14% corresponds to rail, 72% to cars, buses and goods vehicles etc. while 14% corresponds to aviation (all ground and air usage up to 1000 meters) - this means 3.1% of all air pollution in/over London (so much!!). "Passing the buck" to another airport by closing Heathrow easily facilitates the problem of reduction of air pollution for Mayor Boris, though this, as shown, is only a minor part of the problem. Of course this is plain (pun intended) hypocrisy.

Thus the Mayor´s high profile media campaigns have to be seen in their true light. Remember that at the present time he is seen as a strong candidate to take over the Conservative leadership from David Cameron if/when the latter slips up. Thus Boris needs successes in his pocket.

Whatever the politics of the question concerning airport expansion some people work at trying to find solutions which can square the circle.

One such solution to the question of airport capacity and its associated problems was a 70 page document published 5th October 2012 by Policy Exchange called "Bigger and Quieter: the right answer for aviation"(written by Tim Leunig of Centre Forum).

This envisages the present northern and southern Heathrow runways being extended about three kilometers westwards over the M25 and the reservoirs there. They would have parallel runways 380 meters apart to the south and another 380 meters apart to the north. The distance between the inner southern and northern runways would have to be 1035 meters at least. That would make a four runway layout. The southern runways would operate independently from the northern ones (as at present) but dependent on each other similarly to a mixed-mode operation. The aircraft taking off from the inner runway would thus have to wait for the incoming aircraft to land on the outer runway before moving. This makes for a higher potential usage than mixed-mode on the present two runways, but is still very similar. The estimation is for a capacity rise from the actual 480,000 movements to about 850,000 movements per year with an increase in annual passenger capacity from the actual 70 million to 121 million.The estimated cost is much less than any green field(or water) site as much of the infrastructure is already in place.

The document goes into a lot of detail. It talks about passenger entry/exit, transfer between terminals and about layout to simplify ground movements for aircraft thus saving on ground distance to be covered and so kerosene to be burned. The principal argument to move the runways westwards is to increase the approach heights over west London. With a steeper landing inclination (and on take off) at 5.5º, instead of the present 3º it would mean that over Richmond planes would be approaching at 1400meters rather than the 800 meters now, thus reducing the noise effect. The aircraft types are looked at, in addition to the present restrictions, with the eventual aim of prohibiting certain older, noisier and greater fuel guzzlers.

A Thames Estuary hub is rejected, as is a third runway at Heathrow and expansion of Gatwick and Stansted airports. However, the document does state that if its Heathrow proposals are rejected then Luton would be a viable alternative as a four runway airport. (this is an idea which this blogger proposed on 5th July 2010 - "Luton - The Next Best Bet ?")

This blogger finds the document to be one of the best on the subject of airport expansion in the South East of England and should be read by everyone who claims to know the solution to Heathrow and greater capacity. However,as is to be expected, I do not agree with some points. Those criticisms relating to Luton airport, few to be sure, can be dealt with at another time.

The proposal to extend the runways 3 kilometers west of the present Heathrow layout is radical. It does not take into account the effect on Old Windsor, Windsor itself, Datchet and other settlements.
Even if that is the price to pay, the runways do not need to be extended three kilometers. If you extended them westwards(the northern runway 800 meters while the southern even up to 1.5 kilometers) to the M25 you could help alleviate the noise problem over west London. Planes would just have to land further down the (longer) runway. The noise problem could thus be alleviated to a real extent without affecting large numbers or costing extensive amounts of money.
This proposal  would involve just the expropriation of a couple of dozen properties at Stanwell Moor for the southern runway but none for the northern. The present southern and northern runways extended westwards as indicated could well be enough for noise reduction.

The proposed additional two runways would be helpful, of course, but would only provide part of the answer, expensive to deliver and affect larger numbers of people / properties. What the writer in the report, Tim Leunig, has not mentioned is that with his proposal the two southern and two northern runways would be operating as two mini airports, independently, in their own right. There would be no alternation between the northern and the southern runways for landings and take-offs thus making them work all day. At present there is an agreement about alternating usage on each runway, which is a modification of the previous Cranford Agreement, so as to give residents in the area east of the airport (principally) relief from aircraft noise. The net effect is to double the bother to residents. Thus this blogger rejects the proposal of double runways.

The idea of a third runway(R3) could be beneficial to the residents affected at the moment by not changing these agreements of runway alternation. It would affect a different group  of residents in the area but not as much if this blogger´s proposals were taken into account. See the blog "Heathrow´s 3rd runway - how to focus" of 23rd February 2012. The ideas there expressed were to make R3 an independent operation so not interrupting operations on the two main runways and being limited to smaller, thus quieter, aircraft. In fact if propeller driven aircraft were used (an impossibility now on the main runways) there would be no noticeable effect outside the airport boundary on take-offs and landings. The idea is feasible and viable, but also beneficial to local residents as the irritants would be minimal.

The placement of R3 has to be chosen carefully so as to cause minimal effect on the present occupants of the area and the residents affected by operations. If R3 were pushed up to as near as possible to the M4 as legalities(both present and foreseeable), possible M4 widening,  and practicalities permit, as well as being started nearer the M25 at its western end, then even a lot of the demolition of properties would not be necessary. This might mean the runway would have to be about 250 meters south of the M4 at its nearest point. If that were done, even with a 3km. runway (to serve all emergency eventualities, for the whole airport as mentioned in previous blogs on the subject), then Harlington would not need any properties to be expropriated. Harmondsworth need not be affected to a great extent. Sipson would still be affected but to a lesser degree than the present plans. R3 would operate in mixed-mode fashion (alternating landings and take-offs on the same runway).

With R3 being built (terminal 6) T6 is needed with its satellites.  That way you provide the extra terminal capacity without altering the present plans for T1 and T2. It also means that aircraft using R3 would use their own terminal and would not have to cross/interfere with the northern (main) runway to reach other terminals. R3 would be far enough north of the present northern runway to be able to operate independently from it. The effect on Harmondsworth could be much less dramatic, meaning a lower number of expropriations. What must not be forgotten is that some properties along the A4 would have to make way for taxiways to connect the main part of the airport to T6 and R3, though not all have to be houses and hotels some would be carparks.

The government is pressing ahead with plans to connect Heathrow to HS2 - the high speed rail line from Central London to Birmingham and eventually northwards. Nothing is being said at the moment but they are convinced that the connection is needed. The proponents of the idea see it as the solution to the problems, at Heathrow, of ever increasing overcrowding both in the terminals and on the runways so reducing the need for airport expansion.

The idea for the HS2 and other rail connections to Heathrow are based on two assumptions. One is that passengers will transfer from domestic flights to rail thus eliminating the need for domestic flights - this is completely erroneous. That has not been the case anywhere. Some passengers always find it more convenient to connect to a flight to their home airport from where it is easier and quicker to get home.

What the politicians do not mention is, if it works as envisaged, rail would funnel more and more passengers on to flights at Heathrow. The passengers would find Heathrow more attractive instead of them using connecting flights through other European hubs.

The result of this would be twofold if the idea works. There would be fewer connecting flights from regional airports, to other (principally) European airports thus reducing the activity at these airports.The government plan(or intention) is to increase the connections from regional airports to the rest of the British Isles and mainland Europe - this is quite the opposite.The other result would be more passengers being channelled through Heathrow. This would provoke the need for greater capacity at LHR, not less. This is quite the opposite to the intended effect.

The other assumption is with regard to HS2 itself. Is it going to be built? Will the High Speed rail line be built through the airport, or next to it? Now there is talk of changing the route to go through LHR (instead of as a spur from the new main line as is the present proposal). Even if the spur or direct connection to HS2 are not built, will government decide to connect the newly electrified Great Western Main Line (GWML) to the airport? This latter option has already been taken on board with the proposed connection from Reading to Heathrow ("Government backs £500m Heathrow-South West rail link" -  Rail.co 13 July 2012) That means the government is already supporting the airport for the future.

With such an investment government will not then close Heathrow within 15-20 years, at least. The bigger question is if government coughs up the money for the HS2 connection, either as a spur or as a stop on the direct line. If the decision is positive then Heathrow´s future  -  and expansion (meaning Runway 3 and Terminal 6) - is assured. And that is what will happen.

16 October 2012

Heathrow closure: 1/2 - it should not happen.

Is it not shocking that nobody tells us the real plans about what is going to happen to Heathrow airport in the next 50 years?

I have to admit that the plans are not clear. If you read institutional and non-institutional websites, transport blogs, transport forums etc. you still come to two conclusions.
One: nobody knows what they are doing but still go along with their plans come what may.
Two: there is a hidden plan to expand Heathrow come what may orchestrated by government (or big interested parties) so that the politically unspeakable becomes reality.

Short-termism is the rule of the day. When any sort of expansion of airport capacity in the South East of England is mentioned, be it Heathrow, Gatwick or an Estuary airport, or whatever, then the politicians get nervous. Why? Votes.

If runways/airports could be built in three- five years (a la China)  then the politicians would have what it takes to put the necessary infrastructure into place. As it is at present they do not have the guts - meaning both the government and the legislators (election cycles being up to 5 years means that no politician wants to put his job/constituency on the line). It is so wishy-washy of politicians (whatever their colour) to negate development when that means re-election. The word "NO" does not solve any problems but only puts them off to another occasion (obviously when it would not affect the individual concerned) - how cowardly.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have switched from supporting a third runway at Heathrow to being opposed to it. At least the Liberal Democrats (though not offering any practicable solutions) have been consistent in opposing a third runway. That was their price for forming a coalition with the Conservatives so as to be able to form a workable government

The party political conference season has just finished. Each and everyone was saying what the faithful wanted to hear and so imprisoned themselves into straightjackets with policies which have no future.

The governing coalition partners now have this to say in their transport policies.

"The Liberal Democrats believe that the aviation industry shouldn’t get special treatment and must cut emissions just like the rest of the country. Air pollution is already terrible around Heathrow airport and expansion will only make matters worse.
We will reverse Labour plans to expand Heathrow Airport and oppose Boris Johnson's proposals for a new airport in the Thames Estuary. Unlike the Conservatives we oppose all airport expansion serving London and the South East and so would block expansion at Stansted and Gatwick as well."

"The Conservative Party states as its policy.....
......The Conservatives opposed the building of a third runway at Heathrow. This commitment was met in the Coalition agreement. Our position on a third runway at Heathrow has not changed.
Planned actions
• We will pass the Civil Aviation Bill into law. This will deliver much-needed reforms to our aviation regulation system.
• We will press ahead with the consultation process on our draft aviation policy framework.
• The independent commission into aviation capacity will publish an interim report in 2013, and its final report in 2015 on options to maintain our hub status. Any decision will be taken after the next general election."

The Labour party actually says nothing on its website. The only two mentions are those stated below (and even so you have to look hard for them) of which only the first has anything to do with air transport (though nothing relevant to what this article is about).

On 14th June 2012 the Labour Party published "a Policy Review document on Empowering Communities to Improve Transport." which is the only document of any weight to see the light of day this year. While it is long on generalities it has nothing of note about specifics.

It should be noted that with the Cabinet reshuffle in September 2012 the new Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, replaced the former occupant, the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, who is an opponent of any airport expansion. As is stated in the Conservative policy, he has set up an independent commission ...."tasked with identifying and recommending to Government options for maintaining this country’s status as an international hub for aviation."  It will present an interim report before the end of 2013 while the final report must be presented by the summer of 2015. As has been pointed out on every political forum as well as the DfT itself, this date is conveniently after when the next General Election must take place. That way the coalition should hold together. However, when the content of the interim report is known it could break up the coalition prematurely. This could well mean the election is brought forward to late winter or early spring 2014. We shall have to wait and see but it does illustrate how politics is dominated by vote seeking and not necessarily the national good.

Meanwhile the rest get on with doing things and trying to find solutions to the problems.

Another document, which has just been published (October 2012), is a report by
the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment at MIT in collaboration with the Energy Efficient Cities Initiative at Cambridge University   
called "Air quality impacts of UK airport capacity expansion".

The most important point to note in this 5 page summary is that the number of deaths attributed to airport workings (not just aircraft) UKwide are 110(at Heathrow 50) annually.  This number is expected to increase(for a variety of reasons but without airports expansion) in 2030 to 250 in the UK (of which 110 will be attributed to Heathrow). With a third runway at Heathrow this figure is expected to grow from 110 to 150 annually. However, if a new hub were built in the Thames Estuary (with Heathrow being closed) the early deaths attributable to the (new) hub airport would be 50 annually.

The report goes on to make statements about the effects of air pollution which we are unable to see from the information written in the summary. As the summary stands I would question some statements made. To do that in any fair way we would have to read the full report as published in the UK-based scientific journal Atmospheric Environment. Despite obviously not having read anything other than the summary, many commentators have seen the document as the definitive "nail-in-the-coffin" for any expansion at Heathrow. However, things are not so clear.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, presented his Transport Strategy in June 2010. 
It states (point 5.22.5 page 242) in the section Reducing CO2 emissions from aviation
"Government has a target to reduce aviation COemissions to below 2005 levels by 2050."

This is significant and explains why so many documents are being produced concerning pollution. It is the Mayor´s legal obligation to ensure the reduction of the pollution levels.

At the instigation of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the Institute of Occupational Medicine published a report in June 2010 called "Report on estimation of mortality impacts of particulate air pollution in London". Here it looked at all the issues of air pollution (not just aircraft) and estimated that 4267 premature deaths are caused by air pollution in Greater London annually(the figures therein mentioned refer to 2008).

This, however, is only one document in a series published by the Mayor´s office to protect human health. The EU has set ‘limit values’ for PM10 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). PM10s are emitted mainly by cars, factories and domestic heating systems. In the Mayor´s Transport Strategy (previously cited) it mentions(page 104) that "since 1990 CO2 emissions from ground-based transport in London have remained largely constant" at about 22% of all air pollution. Of this fraction 14% is attributed to "ground-based aviation" (including landings and take-offs to 1000 meters) as seen in the graph on page 104. It should be pointed out that of that 22% fraction, 72% is attributed to road transport (cars, taxis, bus coaches, lorries and vans), and the other 14% to rail. The air pollution attributable to  ground-based aviation(up to 1000 meters) thus comes to 3.1% of the total.

The studies have not stopped and do not stop as these questions of air pollutants (particles and noise) are important and ways have to be found to remedy them. Such is the case that the London Assembly Health and Environment Committee is having hearings into "curbing airplane noise and emissions" (from 16th October 2012).

Not only government but also other institutions or agencies produce reports.
Stanford Engineering  "Do airplanes have to be so loud?"
Professor Lele says:  "They don´t. In fact, if you were to compare a jet engine today with one from 40 years ago, you´d find that it is about 100 times quieter for the same engine power." 

This is an interesting article which explains that not only engines but also airframes produce noise - something which is remediable.

Another source, The Register (quoting Science magazine) on 18th June 2009 published a report announcing the results of tests made by US engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. It claimed its new engine "the PW1000G offers a 15 per cent saving on fuel, correspondingly less CO2, and a 50 per cent cut in NOx emissions." These are significant figures. The first "planes will come into service from 2013."
Thus we arrive at the basic question to be asked.

Are we to be limited in development of active resources because of the problems of today without looking at the developments of tomorrow? 
The engine manufacturers and the airframe constructors are already planning the next generation of aircraft after A380, B747-8, B787 and A350. Airbus already has plans for aircraft with steeper descents to the runways and steeper climbs from takeoff. Engines are about consumption(for the layman: miles per gallon), efficiency of use(mpg and toxic fumes produced) and noise(efficiency of the engine). It cannot now be disputed that there have been substantial improvements in such areas since the introduction of the B707, the VC10, the B747(first generation) the Trident, the BAC111, the Caravelle, the DC8 etc. etc. The noise pollution over Richmond and Twickenham now has no comparison to the same when these aircraft were first introduced. 45 years ago the noise was even unbearable while now it is a mild irritant at most. Obviously the closer to the airport the greater the irritant - that has been, is and  will still be a point of discussion for all time wherever an airport is situated. If it is not the aircraft then it is the traffic going to/from the airport, or the airport itself, and if you are really at a loss for complaint then the passengers themselves. 

What has not been said so far is that not all airplanes should necessarily be jets. When they are propeller driven then they make far less noise and produce far fewer fumes than jets. Their noise/fume footprint outside the airport boundary is practically non-existant. If any third runway at Heathrow were built it would provide the necessary accessibility to destinations in the British Isles of which many would gain access by propeller driven aircraft.

Consider that the opponents of airport expansion today are basing their criticisms on the negative aspects of air travel. They conveniently forget the improvements in engine efficiency and reduction in noise since the initial explosion in jet air travel. Are there not going to be similar improvements in the next 50 years (as have been in the previous 50)? How can they  reject even aircraft which will not bother them? Are they not, therefore, being Luddites in rejecting any development? 


The next blog explains how Heathrow will not be closed.

Consider also the blog published 23rd February 2012 "Heathrow´s 3rd runway - how to focus"