British Appeals Court has ruled against the third runway at Heathrow Airport

For over a decade there has been an argument in the UK about adding additional Airport runways to the area around London.

planes in a line, coming into Heathrow

Certainly it is true that Heathrow Airport is close to capacity. Indeed from many parts of London you can see the planes coming in and usually you can see two or three in the sky at the same time on approach to the runway.

The problem is that air travel is extremely carbon intensive and the UK has signed up to the Paris climate Accord which requires us to cut our carbon emissions significantly. The appeals Court ruled quite rightly that a third runway at Heathrow is incompatible with this goal.

I would say that there should be a caveat on this angle. This judgement should be be capable of being revisited in several decades if electric planes have have taken over the skies. There is a large amount of money being put into to trying to get air travel done electric planes with batteries. While these look capable they may require more, smaller planes – in order to clean up the industry.

The electricity grid is increasingly cleaning up it’s act, and power plant have the ability to capture the carbon they create anyway (in theory if not yet in practice). As with electric cars electric planes Emits no emissions themselves, so not only do you move the production of the electricity to a larger place which can be carbon neutral such as a solar farm, but also you get a significant quantity of efficiency gains by making this change. Electric cars have an efficiency that dwarfs that of their combustion engine counterparts ( partly because so much of the energy in in the fossil fuels are lost to heat). 

However the issue is is that electric planes are likely to require more smaller planes rather than a few very very large ones. This means that if electric planes do take over the market we are going to need substantially more runway space than they currently have (though the quietness of electric planes potentially means you can run airport through the night, which at the moment would be unfair for people living nearby).

The government’s argument was that a third runway at Heathrow was necessary for growth after brexit and would have boosted the economy. Although this may be true it came with a completely unacceptable cost. It should not be necessary for third-party organisations to take the government to court what to make it take treaties it has signed seriously. The government has stated that it will not appeal the ruling but is in unhappy that it’s Will has been blocked.

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