In June, London City Airport released its plans for a major expansion over the next fifteen years. Although the company has no intention of expanding its physical footprint by building a new runway or terminal – there simply isn’t the space – it is asking for a relaxation of the restrictions around its operation, in order to “maximise the potential” of existing infrastructure.
In short, the airport wants to be allowed to operate during times that it is not currently permitted, or when flights are limited. That would include an end to the 24-hour weekend closure between 12.30pm on Saturday and 12.30pm on Sunday, lifting the annual cap of 111,000 flights to 151,000 by 2035, and increasing the number of flights that can land and take off during the first and last half hour of the airport’s daily operations.
Any such expansion will impact the lives of ordinary Londoners, who will be forced to deal with yet more noisy planes overhead, during even more antisocial hours. It will also exacerbate the city’s air pollution crisis, which already causes thousands of premature deaths every year.
To add insult to injury, most residents of the capital have never even flown out of London City.
The annual salary of an average passenger from the airport is reportedly £114,000 – four times the median UK income, three times that of the typical Londoner, and the highest of all the airports in the UK. More than half of its passengers are business customers flying directly into financial capitals such as Frankfurt and Zurich, or tax havens like Luxembourg and the Isle of Man.
Those who do use the airport for leisure trips earn far more than middle-income holidaymakers. Most of the planes owned by low-cost carriers, such as EasyJet and Ryanair, are too large to use its runway.
The airport claims that its expansion will be carbon neutral. But even if we could take its speculative claims at face value, these promises don’t go anywhere near far enough. If we’re to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and limit global temperature increase to two degrees centigrade, we need to actively reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases being expelled into the atmosphere.
Simply put, rather than allowing London City Airport to expand to accommodate projected increases in demand, we should be looking to take the heat out of that demand. Nothing short of a cut in the number of flights taken each year will bring us close to carbon neutrality.
So, how do we achieve that in the 11 years the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have left to avert a climate emergency? The Greens support the introduction of an EU-wide kerosene (plane fuel) tax, which would help us move closer to this goal. Many countries already tax fuel on some flights – includeing the US, Australia and Japan – and I am broadly in favour. There is currently an active EU petition calling on the Commission to propose this tax to Member States, which needs to secure one million signatures by May 2020.
We should also be seriously considering the introduction of a frequent flyer levy – an extra tax that would be paid by those who fly more than twice a year, and rise with each additional flight taken. In a recent poll, 56 per cent of people agreed that a frequent flyer levy would be “fair”.
They’re right. The vast majority of people would not be affected by such a tax. Most years, most Britons do not fly at all. And only 15 per cent take three or more flights, adding up to a whopping 70 per cent of all flights taken.
It’s now clear that the wealthiest among us are doing disproportionate harm to our environment. They need to contribute towards fixing this damage, or change their damaging behaviour.
A public consultation on London City’s expansion ends in less than a month. I urge you to respond and reject these reckless, polluting and downright dangerous plans.
Scott Ainslie is a Green MEP for London.