'Heathrow Puts Environmental Limits Before New Flights'

BAA ask Government to appoint independent assessor if expansion is approved

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Heathrow Airport announced that it will ask the Government to appoint an independent assessor to guarantee public confidence in noise and air quality limits if expansion is approved.

Regardless of the theoretical capacity created by mixed-mode and a third runway, the airport will only raise the number of flights if it operates within these environmental limits said a spokeperson for BAA the company that operates the airport.

However, Friends of the Earth have branded the offer meaningless saying, "The government has already said that a third runaway and the extra flights would only be allowed if "strict environmental limits" were met. So BAA is offering nothing new. In the case of air pollution, the limits are set by an EU Directive so all BAA is saying is that it will obey the law!"

In addition to appointing an independent assessor, BAA claimed that the number of flights at Heathrow will only be increased using its two existing runways (mixed-mode) at peak times 'when the airport has significantly enhanced punctuality and reliability to a standard developed with airlines, passengers and business groups'.

They believe that this approach will also reduce the environmental impacts of aircraft ‘stacking’ in the sky before landing, and queuing on congested taxiways prior to departure.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, said, “We have listened to the many arguments around expansion at Heathrow. Although the economic case remains compelling, we understand that we can only increase the number of flights if we can safeguard levels of noise and air quality.

“By calling on an independent assessor to scrutinise the airport’s performance against these limits, we are providing an uncompromising assurance that we will operate Heathrow Airport within the limits laid down by Government. If we don’t, the number of flights in and out of Heathrow could be capped.

“We are also announcing today that we would take advantage of mixed mode to increase the number of flights in and out of Heathrow at peak times only when punctuality has improved to an agreed standard. Today, Heathrow operates at 99.7% capacity, reducing resilience when problems arise. The extra flexibility offered by mixed-mode and the third runway will enable Heathrow to match the reliability of its international competitors.”

Friends of the Earth's Nic Ferriday commented,"It would be very hard to trust a government-appointed assessor. The government's collusion with BAA and its rigging of the air pollution figures were exposed in the national press and on the BBC Panorama programme. In the case of noise the government has pre-determined the result by picking a measure which it knows is not valid. The government would just appoint a stooge to confirm its previous results. If there is to be a truly independent assessor, it must be one that Friends of the Earth and the public trust."

If the Government approves the introduction of mixed-mode and a third runway, Heathrow Airport say they will set out specific punctuality targets, based on discussions with airlines, passenger groups and business organisations. The company would also consult local people, to consider further steps to tackle the local impacts of aviation and better support communities.

Heathrow Airport is currently in discussions around high-speed rail options, and will consult on a revised ground transport strategy.

November 27, 2008