Wake up to the aircraft pollution

Two seat aircraft.
Two seat aircraft.

Aircraft are rarely mentioned in this column because their use as a means of transport in this country is largely confined to international flights.

In the writer’s view, there are very few internal flights that offer sufficient savings to justify the huge inconveniences associated with using aeroplanes.

The chief disadvantage of most internal flights is that they go to and from Heathrow to connect with international services.

The development of Heathrow following the Second World War as a major hub airport is, in my view, one of the most unfortunate aspects of aviation.

It has been pointed out that the principal function of Heathrow is as an interchange point for international travellers. It has little benefit for the British travellers, whose international air journeys tend to be made from Gatwick, Luton, Stanstead, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

My Integrated Transport book, mentioned below, was written more than a decade ago and is basically an historical document dealing with the past, rather than the future.

But it does contain a final chapter looking forward.

The prospect of global catastrophe was just being taken seriously at the time, but we are becoming rather lax in our approach to environmental considerations now.

It is time to wake up to reality.

In 2006 two research projects each reached the same conclusion – that aircraft are 10 times more polluting per passenger-kilometre than electric trains.

Some comparatively small advances have been made in aircraft pollution in the last decade, but the most significant advance has been the construction of a solar-powered aircraft. The quicker that is advanced, the better.

Some far-sighted people are, even now, committed to reducing the amount of flying, yet it is actually still increasing.

In the past the reaction to increased demand was to increase supply to meet it.

But there came a point when it was realised that ‘predict and provide’ must give way to ‘predict and prevent’.

As a result the Integrated Transport book included the following passage.

“A serious approach to ‘Predict and Prevent’ might lead to some lateral thinking, which recognises that North West Europe needs only one major hub airport, for which Amsterdam-Schipol is best suited, with Eurostar services extended from Brussels to Amsterdam.

“An extension of this thinking might thus conclude that London-Heathrow should be closed, and the site, which is well connected with rail and Underground services, utilised for residential and industrial development with open space and recreational facilities.”

In 2018 the first tentative extension of Eurostar services to Amsterdam has begun, and the re-direction of feeder services from British airports to Amsterdam, rather than Heathrow, would be beneficial in relieving the pressure on Heathrow.

The much-delayed decision on the third runway at Heathrow has been made.

However, this will involve such enormous disruption to life in the area, for example while part of the M25 is sunk into tunnel – hardly a quick and easy job.

With the imposition on all of London of many additional aircraft movements, it is probably safe to say that we can be confident that it will not happen.

•John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? This book is priced at £14.95, post paid and signed by the author. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order through the author’s website at www.john-wylde.co.uk or from Grieves on the corner of Church Street in Berwick.