Gatwick Airport Expansion Flies Over Climate Change Concerns

(Photo Credit: Neil Mewes/Unsplash)
(Photo Credit: Neil Mewes/Unsplash)

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The UK is discovering a downside to the booming, post-pandemic demand for air travel. Expansion plans for UK airports, especially London Gatwick, are flying in the face of growing environmental concerns and net-zero initiatives.

Things are Heating Up

Gatwick — the UK’s second-largest airport — plans to expand to a degree that would put it ahead of London’s Heathrow. As part of a £2.2 billion project, Gatwick would activate its standby runway, essentially doubling passenger capacity to 75 million per year. Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate told the Financial Times that the plan follows government calls for airports other than Heathrow to expand with existing infrastructure.

Eight of the UK’s other largest airports, including Manchester, Stansted, and Luton, also plan to expand.

The commercial airline industry has pledged to start using less polluting fuels, but scientists and green advocates don’t think the UK can meet its pledge to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 if airports continue to expand:

  • Last week, the UK’s Climate Change Committee said it had “markedly less” confidence than a year ago that the country can achieve its climate goals over the next few decades, suggesting airport expansion should pause until there are more emission controls in place.
  • According to the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, airplanes emit roughly 100 times more carbon dioxide per hour than buses or trains. Globally, commercial aviation releases 1 billion tons of CO2 per year — more than most individual countries, and behind only Japan, Russia, India, the US, and China.

Even London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who once supported Gatwick’s expansion plans, has flipped. “The mayor fails to see how any airport expansion can be justified if it is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis and achieving our net zero targets,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.

Build it, They will come: Gatwick says expansion would create 3,000 jobs at the airport and put £1bn into the local economy every year. And a YouGov poll found that nearly 80% of people in the surrounding counties support Gatwick’s expansion. Just don’t be surprised when all your vacation destinations turn into tropical ones.