STOP Expansion of Exeter Airport

The Case against Expansion of Exeter Airport

The campaign against the expansion of Exeter Airport is not opposed to the airport itself. We just want it to become economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. In order to achieve this we argue that the airport should stabilise at about a million passengers per year, and thereafter to contract to about 250,000 passengers per year.

In 2006/2007 Exeter International Airport dealt with just under a million passengers per year (PAX), but it is extremely likely that within a few decades, the airport could be dealing with 3.5 million passengers (a more than three-fold increase).

This is simply not sustainable.

1.. Expansion:

Exeter International Airport is currently the fastest growing airport in the UK. It has grown by 154% (more than double) in the last two years:

This phenomenal growth has almost totally been the result of the expansion of cheap flights offered by ‘flybe’; the major operator at the airport.

The Air Transport White Paper put forward a number of scenarios for the expansion of Exeter Airport, and the one that is now being seen as the most likely is 3.5 million passengers per annum by 2030, which would happen if there were constraints applied to airports in the South East Region of the UK.

At current expansion rates - and with a new owner keen to benefit from its new asset - Exeter Airport could be accommodating 3.5 million passengers within 20 years. However, it is not expected that the current rate of expansion can be sustained into the future. We thus anticipate that it would take at least 20 years before the airport could handle this throughput of passengers.

The current airport building will only be able to handle 2 million passengers per year. The airport has outline planning permission since 2004 from East Devon District Council for a new airport terminal building to the north of the runway. However, it is expected that the full application will go to a public inquiry at some stage in the near future.

Such an expansion will have a huge damaging effect on the economic, environmental and social health of Exeter and Devon.

2.. Climate Change:

Exeter Airport like all airports in the UK has to face the fact that the reality of Climate Change dictates that it has to re-evaluate its aspirations for expansion. It should in fact be planning for contraction over the next 25 years.

Carbon Dioxide emissions from air travel are growing at a faster rate than any other source. UK greenhouse gas emissions from aviation rose by almost 90% between 1990 and 2003.

What makes air travel unique is that CO2 emissions created in the atmosphere have a multiplier effect known as "radiative forcing index". The IPCC and the UK Government assumes a factor of 2.7 for this effect, although there is a significant body of scientists that suggest we ought to be using a factor of 3.5.

Typically air travel creates between 10 and 15 times more CO2 equivalent emissions than travel by train. The higher figure is more relevant for short haul flights, which is what Exeter Airport specialises in.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has established that forecast aviation growth will make the Government’s CO2 reduction target impossible to achieve. They have established that the current situation in the UK is as follows:

Total carbon emissions are 150 MtC (Million tonnes of Carbon). Emissions from UK air travel are 10 MtC. Multiply this figure by the 2.7 radiative forcing factor to get 27 MtC equivalent. This is 18% of the current total UK emissions.

However, projected forward 45 years these figures are going to change significantly. The UK has committed itself to make savings of 60% in CO2 emissions by the year 2050. By this year therefore the UK target should be 65 MtC. This figure is based on stabilisation of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere at 550 ppm (parts per million). However, a scientific consensus is being established that we should be looking at stabilising the atmosphere at a concentration of 450 ppm. (see box below). This would require the UK CO2 emissions to be cut by about 80% leaving a target of 32 MtC by 2050. (See graph below)

The Government White Paper on Air Transport predicted that passenger numbers would almost triple by 2030, and increase further by 2050. This would mean that emissions from air travel would be 86 MtC equivalent by 2050.

Note that this is 2.6 times more than the whole UK target!

Indeed, by the year 2037, emissions from UK air travel will be equal to the whole of the UK CO2 emissions target.

Note that even if air travel doesn’t grow at all, it will still represent 86% of the UK emissions target in 2050. That is why we are arguing that the growth in air travel must stop now.

Mike Clasper, Chief Executive of BAA, said in April 2005: "I don't believe that a future exists in which aviation can get away, scot-free, without fully accounting for our growing impacts on climate change".

Climate Change has now become a legitimate reason for refusing a Planning Application. Uttlesford District Council in November 2006 refused a Planning Application from BAA for an extension of the runway at Stansted Airport, which would increase passenger numbers by 60 %. The reason for refusal was principally on climate change grounds.
See for further information.

3.. Economic Impact:

There is an impression that air travel is good for the economy of the region. Nothing could be further from the truth. Airports are effectively an economic drain to the local economy. Airports in the South West cost each householder at least £1,000 every year.

This is as a result of 2 factors:

  1. Losses from lack of taxation applied to air travel.
  2. Economic deficit because more visitors leave the South West that arrive here.

1.. Loss of taxation: Airport fuel (kerosene) attracts no fuel tax. Similarly all activities associated with air travel do not attract VAT. This means that the UK economy loses £9.2 million which would have been raised if there was a level playing field and air travel paid its full costs. This works out at £428 per household in the UK.

2.. Net visitor deficit: Inward visitors through South West’s airports spend £575 million. However, outward visitors spend £1,815 million, outside of the South West. The net deficit is £1.24 billion. This is £1.24 billion that could be spent on local services and businesses if we didn’t have an airport. This huge sum works out at £581 per South West household. By the year 2020, this could be double.

The total amount that each household in the South West subsidises South West airports is a massive £1009 every year.

In addition to this there are other economic losses that are harder to quantify: the cost of traffic congestion, the cost to health as a result of the added pollution, and the cost of dealing with the climate change caused by air travel.

Exeter International Airport is a huge drain on the local economy, and must not be allowed to grow any further.

4.. Local Pollution:

Pollution is not limited to the skies. Exeter International Airport is one of those airports identified by a report carried out by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy as being beyond the EU limit for Nitrogen Dioxide pollution. This Nitrogen Dioxide limit is 40 micrograms per cubic metre. NO2 pollution at Exeter Airport was found to be 50% beyond this limit. This pollution is caused principally, not by aeroplanes, but by cars, taxis, and buses that bring passengers to and from the airport. Exeter Airport is poorly served by public transport; there are minimal bus services and no rail link. Therefore the main problem is cars and taxis.

This EU limit becomes law in 2010. By this time Exeter Airport must significantly reduce the local pollution it is causing. However, by this time it could be producing twice as much pollution.

Households in Clyst Honiton that are directly under the flight path and close to the approach roads must be already experiencing dangerous levels of Nitrogen Dioxide pollution. Their future health depends upon a responsible decision to reduce the size of Exeter Airport.

5.. Noise:

Noise is now being suffered by households directly under Exeter Airport’s flight paths. We estimate that about 15,000 households in Exeter and East Devon are affected by noise. The area affected is indicated by the noise zone identified on the following diagram. Amazingly an independent study of the noise profile has not been carried out to establish just how damaging the airport is now, and how damaging it will be when 4.5 million passengers are using the airport. The campaign group ACE (Airport Concern Exeter) has committed itself to ensuring that a full noise survey is carried out prior to Devon County Council selling off the airport to a private company in autumn 2006.

The UK has signed up to the World Health Organisation’s noise standards, but fails to apply them. The W.H.O. states that outdoor noise events at night should not exceed 60 decibels, and that continuous noise during the day should not exceed 55 decibels. It is clear that the aircraft noise affected residents writing into the Express and Echo, feel that noise limits have already reached nuisance levels.

But with 5 times more air traffic expected within the next 10 or 20 years, noise from aircraft is going to become more than just an annoyance, it is going to have serious impacts on health and stress levels.

6.. Social Impacts:

The air travel industry often argues that cheap air travel stops the elitist situation in the past where only the rich enjoyed the privilege of flying. Interestingly recent trends show that air travel remains the preserve of the wealthy.

It’s still the case that the overwhelming majority of people that fly come from the higher socio-economic groups. Indeed the growth of air travel has widened inequalities between income and social groups and not narrowed them.

Even research by the aviation industry’s own lobby group; "Freedom to Fly" has shown that people in the top three social classes fly four times as often as those in the three lower classes. Even on budget airlines, people from the top three social classes account for more than 75% of passengers.

Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority, published in 2004 reinforce these trends. Those in social groups D and E (27% of the population) took only 6% of flights in 2003.

Easyjet themselves have confirmed that the rapid growth in budget airlines is being fuelled by people with very high disposable incomes who book dozens of trips a year: "We have at least 1,000 people who fly every week from London to their second homes in Nice, Malaga, Palma and Barcelona", a spokesman said, "There is a misconception that budget airlines are used mainly by people on lower incomes. If you look in the airport car parks you will find them full of BMWs and Mercedes."

Air travel is still a luxury only enjoyed by the privileged elite.

7.. Conclusions:

Air travel has now reached and gone beyond sustainability limits. It is already costing the Devon economy at least £1,000 per household, and this economic drain is likely to increase in the future. It’s environmental impact in terms of local pollution, global pollution and noise has now reached a critical level, and we should now look at stabilising passenger numbers at the airport, and then – in the long term - reducing its overall impact.

For the sake of the local economy and environment, we have no choice but to campaign stop the expansion plans of Exeter Airport.

Latest Update:
March 2008
Web page updated by Mozz
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