Green technology could mitigate environmental impacts of Heathrow expansion

Technological advancements will mitigate the environmental impacts, such as noise and air pollution, of the controversial third runway developed at Heathrow, a new report from the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) has found.

The ‘Trends in the mitigation of noise and emissions’ report – created in collaboration with aviation consultancy RDC Aviation – has suggested that disruptions arising from noise and increases in carbon and nitrogen emissions as a result of an airport expansion would be mitigated by the uptake of advanced technology.

The report claims that by introducing new aircraft models and retrofitting old ones with biofuel or electrically charged power units, Heathrow can improve year-on-year fuel efficiency by 1.6% – enough to offset any emission increases that the extra runway produces, according to the report.

Analysis from the report has also suggested that road traffic would be the main culprit in an increase in air pollution. Heathrow has attempted to address this problem through the introduction of zero-emission driverless cars and a £2m electric vehicle charging pledge.

Heathrow’s director of sustainability Matt Gorman said: “Heathrow takes air quality issues seriously. This report adds to the evidence presented by the Airports Commission that road traffic is the main contributor to poor air quality and it is a national problem which needs government action. Heathrow has worked to maintain airport-related traffic – broadly static since the 1990’s – and is taking action to reduce emissions further by switching to electric vehicles and increasing public transport options for passengers and colleagues.

“Heathrow has called for local and national partners to work together on a plan to reduce the impact of non-airport related vehicles, which are the major source of local air pollution.  The huge benefits of additional capacity at our airport need not come at the expense of the environment – Heathrow expansion can deliver for both.”

Plane pains

Environmental groups have long argued that the implementation of a third runway would be in direct juxtaposition to the UK’s decarbonisation plans. This has led to a delayed verdict in the approval of the runway as well as the high-profile court case of the ‘Heathrow 13’.

But ITC claims that road transport accounts for just under one third of Nitrogen emissions in the UK and that any lobbying against the extra runway should be aimed at the transport sector as a whole. Yet with local communities in mind the recent Airports Commission enquiry was unable to confirm whether the expansion proposals would remain within EU limits for air quality.

While efforts have been made to improve transport infrastructure around the airport, Heathrow is still researching the uptake of newer aircraft models. ITC analysis cited turbofan engines from American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney – which has recently collaborated with NASA – that could reduce fuel burn by 15% and emissions by 80% as an example of the technological options available.

Heathrow has a 10 step plan in place to become the most sustainable airport hub in the world. Heathrow 2020 lays out the blueprint to reduce environmental impact, invest in local communities and support economic growth.

Heathrow Airport was also a recent winner at edie’s Sustainable Leaders Awards, taking home the award in the Energy Management category.

Matt Mace

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