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The UK’s largest dedicated base for private jets is pushing expansion plans to boost flights by almost 50% to meet “extra demand” – despite the government’s own Climate Change Committee advising there should be no growth in aviation until the industry can show it is reducing emissions.
Farnborough Airport in Hampshire is consulting on proposals for a planning application to raise the existing annual flight limit from 50,000 to 70,000 flights a year to “meet the market demand” for flights by 2040.
Flights on weekends and public holidays would also rise from 8,900 to 18,900 flights a year, while operating hours on weekends would expand from 8am-8pm to 7am-9pm to reduce congestion at either end of the day.
The weight of aircraft able to land could also rise from 50-80 tonnes to 55-80 tonnes, with an increase in the number of flights from heavier modern aircraft.
A spokesperson for the airport said the company “understands that we need to find a balance between safeguarding and increasing the economic benefit of the Airport versus its environmental impact.”
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But the plans face fierce local opposition. Colin Shearn, the former chair and founder of the Farnborough Noise Group in 2019 was given an Antisocial Behaviour Order over his campaigning a week ago, just as the consultation started. Allies have branded it a “gagging order to try and undermine the group.”
John Eriksson, new chair of the Farnborough Noise Group, said: “The airport states there must be a balance between the economic benefit versus its environmental benefit. It claims it will be “net zero” by 2030 but this only relates to the 5% of emissions from ground operations. The other 95% from flights themselves will increase massively with the proposals.
“The airport serves a very small number of wealthy people while causing noise, pollution and emissions that impact hundreds of thousands of people and disturb the peace and quiet of protected natural areas such the country’s national parks and Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The balance needs to be moved in favour of the public rather than the profit of corporations and shareholder returns.”
The airport claims – like other major airports – it will be “net zero” by 2030, but this only relates to a fraction of emissions, covering ground operations. The other 95% from flights themselves will “increase massively” with the proposals opponents say.
Sarah Wood – coordinator of the local Blackwater Valley Friends of the Earth told Byline Times the group was “horrified” at the prospect of increased flights at Farnborough Airfield.
“Our focus will be on the impact of climate change on the increase of carbon emissions in the form of carbon dioxide and particulates,” she said. The group is meeting this week to launch an “effective plan of action” against the expansion proposals.
A local petition has amassed over 750 signatures of opposition in a few days. Of all the proposed measures, the doubling of annual weekend flights from 8900 to 18,900 is the most controversial, Geoffrey Marks OBE, Chair, Farnborough Aerodrome Residents Association says.
In 2003, Farnborough Airport had an annual weekend flight limit of just 2,500. This number was doubled to 5,000 in 2007 on appeal to the Secretary of State, and nearly doubled again to 8,900 in 2010/11- again on appeal.
Labour councillor and local shadow climate spokesperson Jules Crossley also sits on the Farnborough Aerodrome Consultative Committee.
She told Byline Times: “We’ve suspected that Farnborough Airport Limited were going to apply for an extension of the yearly air traffic movements (ATMs) for some time. Their business growth is being hampered by the weekend and bank holiday limit of 8,900 [annual flights] – hence their desire to increase it to 18,900.
“Imagine you are a wealthy person flying to Ibiza for the closing parties and you’re flying out of Farnborough (where you’re leaving your Aston Martin) but you can’t fly back on Sunday because the airport has reached their allocation of weekend flights – so you have to fly back to Blackbushe or Luton. Not very convenient.”
She added: “What is also not very convenient is that the world has seen the hottest year on record, with devastating floods across the globe. The government, local authority and County Council have all declared climate emergencies, but none of them are taking the appropriate action to meet the challenges we face. We must stop expanding aviation until the technology exists to provide emission free, low-noise flights.”
Cllr Crossley argues those with money and resources to fund the development of alternative engines and truly sustainable fuel, are the “same people” flying in private jets. “We need to stop indulging them and get them to invest in solutions rather than making the problem worse. Taxing aviation fuel properly and a frequent flyer tax would be good ways to start raising the revenue to do this,” the climate activist said.
Currently, plans for so-called ‘Jet Zero’ or zero emissions flights are only at very early stages and are viewed as a smokescreen for increasing emissions from aviation in the meantime on the promise of fossil fuel-free flights in the distant future.
Private Capital and Pollution
Farnborough Airport is owned by Macquarie Group Limited, an Australian financial services group headquartered and listed in Australia. It is the world’s largest infrastructure asset manager – owning UK assets including Thames Water and now Southern Water.
In the last audited financial year (2021), just under half of Farnborough Airport’s revenue was paid to Macquarie through dividend and interest payments.
Local campaigners say that until 2020 when new flight paths were introduced, many rural areas that are in National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty had only five to ten aircraft a day flying over them. Now that is often more than 100 a day, at peak times amounting to private jets overhead every few minutes. “The peace of these areas is supposed to be protected under Air Navigation Guidance 2017,” Farnborough Noise Group argues.
Pollution from the aircraft is an increasing concern locally, particularly ultrafine particles that can enter the lungs. “Airborne pollution is the biggest killer in the UK yet the airport doesn’t even measure particulate pollution. There should be no consideration of increasing flight numbers until adequate pollution measurement has taken place,” Eriksson told Byline Times.
To stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming by the end of the century, there is a consensus that the UK and other countries have to rapidly cut CO2 emissions.
Private jets produce 30-40 times more emissions than an equivalent journey by commercial aircraft, per passenger mile. On average there are only 2.5 passengers per plane and 40% of flights fly empty.
Farnborough Airport says it is launching a new “Sustainability Fund” to coincide with a massive increase in private jet flights, enhancements to its sound insulation grant scheme, and changes to its Community Environmental Fund.
The airport argues the changes will “enable us to meet the long-term market demand for connectivity from Farnborough Airport, generating additional employment and helping to strengthen the attractiveness of the local area to trade and commerce.”
Detailed information on the proposals will be available on its website from Wednesday 20th September.
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