Airports are major sources of urban air pollution

Not only do aeroplanes emit greenhouse gases high in the atmosphere, making a disproportionate contribution to global warming, but airports are also major emitters of pollution, according to a new report into world travel.

One of the most significant environmental concerns arising from the increases in both passenger and freight air transport in recent years, is that most airports are located in or near major cities, says the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in its Mobility 2001 report. Urban residents are affected by noise, pollution and congestion arising from airport developments.

As well as emissions from aircraft that are idling on the runway, taxiing, landing or taking off, vehicles used by passengers and airport services contribute to make airports major pollution emitters. For example, Kennedy airport is a bigger source of volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides than the Hudson Avenue power plant in New York, and Los Angeles airport is the second largest producer of industrial smog in the region. Noise also has significant effects on health, quality of life, and property prices (see related story), says the report.

Air travel is expected to grow rapidly in the years to come, especially in the developing world, a WBCSD spokesperson told edie. WBCSD admits, however, that although high speed rail links can compete with up to 1.5 hours of flight time in Western Europe and in part of the US, elsewhere, and for longer flight times there is little chance of curbing the growth in air travel. Although aircraft size is generally increasing, pollution is exacerbated in places such as the US through demand for conveniently scheduled departure times and a range of return options from the less price-sensitive business travellers, which has led to the use of smaller aircraft, which are scheduled more frequently.

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