Comic Relief sells out to BAA

We received an email the other night from British Airways inviting us to buy raffle tickets to ‘be part of comedy history and laugh along at our record-breaking comedy gig in the sky’ as part of their 'Flying Start' promotion. In short, Comic Relief together with British Airways is holding an event which will inevitably contribute to climate change in order to raise money for climate change. Hypocrisy or what?

Full story here

High Court: Heathrow expansion "untenable in law or common sense"

It is a great day to be alive - unless you're BAA or the Government. In one of the most devastating condemnations of Government transport policy ever seen, the High Court has ruled that the case for Heathrow expansion has no economic or environmental basis. The ruling is so damning that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper - the cornerstone of the Government's aviation policy - is now only suitable for lining cat litter trays.

Firstly, Lord Justice Carnwath found that the economic case underestimated the economic impact of climate change - the external cost to society of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. The actual cost is three times larger than the figure used to calculate the economic benefit.

Two years ago WWF and transport academic Keith Buchan found that using proper Treasury calculations and doubling the value of climate change used in the Government's calculations turned the £5 billion claimed benefit into a £5 billion deficit (i.e. it cost society £5 billion). Imagine what tripling the value would do!

Having dispatched the economic case, Carnwath turned to climate change. It was ridiculous, he argued, for the Government to ignore its own legislation, i.e. the Climate Change Act 2008. When the Government rewrites aviation policy later this year, it will have to take account of climate change in a real and considered manner. This means that all airport expansion can be challenged on climate change grounds, until the Government or industry can show how having ever more planes in the sky is compatible with reducing CO2 emissions.

Finally he looked at surface access. The Government claimed that you could increase by around 40% the number of people travelling to Heathrow without turning West London into a giant car park and pushing the Picaddilly line beyond capacity. Nonsense, cried the judge, citing evidence from Transport for London which showed very, very clearly that there wasn't going to be anything like enough road or tube space for all these extra people to fit into.

As if that wasn't enough, Carnwath turned his mind to the wider idea of challenging Government policy at public inquiries. It was not enough for the Government to say "this is our policy, so shut up and take it". While some aspects of policy were cut and dry there were some grey areas which the public had the right to challenge. The need for a particular motorway or airport should be open to challenge and debate, and public inquiries were the forum for doing this.

I've read the occasional verdict in my time, and this one is sensational. It's well worth reading through the judge's reasoning, if only to see just how spurious and ill-thought out the Government's case is. For once, I have nothing but praise for the legal system... normal service to resume shortly!

Why is BAA taking over Edinburgh tourism?

Last week the managing director of Edinburgh Airport, Gordon Dewar, became chairman of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG). Dewar talks interchangeably about the needs of the airport and tourist industry. Surely increasing tourism means expanding the airport to allow more passengers to fly here from abroad?

It's not quite as simple as that. Firstly, British people fly twice as much as anyone else in the world. We do this because we're an island, but also because the aviation industry is such a powerful lobbyist. The impact on our tourism industry is dire: each year we spend £20 billion more abroad than foriegn tourists spend here. Visitors from overseas only make up 28% of the passengers flying to Edinburgh. The rest are Brits returning home.

This aviation-driven tourism strategy is unsustainable and embarassing. Remember the Homecoming campaign? Instead of empowering the managing director of the City’s airport we should be encouraging British people to holiday at home. Putting Dewar in charge of tourism is like leaving the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

The appointment puts BAA in an incredibly strong position to fight any increase in passenger duty or tourism taxes. It will allow the airport free reign to promote its expansion plans, which would lead to more noise and carbon emissions. And by equating itself with tourism, you can be sure that they won't be short of cash for expansion. Roll over while we rub your belly BAA.

More Government cover-up over Heathrow impacts

Another Sunday Times splash: those naughty officials at DfT spent 16 months trying to stop Justine Greening, MP for Putney, seeing information about the third runway. This includes emails which pointed out that "some consultees may ... claim collusion" between the Department for Transport and BAA.

Not only did they do everything to delay releasing documents, but they doctored reports to remove references to technical documents so that campaigners wouldn't know they existed. According to the Sunday Times, a memo from the senior strategy manager on Heathrow at BAA explicitly asks for a reference to BAA technical notes to be removed. It then adds: "He has avoided all references to the TNs [technical notes] in the surface access report and suggests, which I would agree with, that if [name redacted] can change his reference it could minimise the opportunity for a request for access to any or all of the TNs."

The emails show that the Government beefed up a consultation of businesses in the South East to make its case. Just 2.6% of the 6,000 businesses consulted bothered to reply, but the DfT still claimed that 90% of businesses relied on expansion, even though it was obvious that only those with a vested interest in the third runway had bothered to respond.

Nothing the Government did when making the case for expansion was above board. Civil servants and BAA sat down and openly conspired together to try and get the runway built. They moved the NOx meters further from the source of emissions to play down the levels of pollution. They invented magic planes which made no noise and emitted next to nothing (and which no engineer in their right mind would trust to get off the ground in one piece).

These reports are a damning paper trail of the lengths the Government would go to sell for communities around Heathrow down the river. It's time for heads to fall, but the Government will doubtless stand by Sir Humphrey and chums. That's no surprise: there's been a revolving door between Labour and the aviation industry since they first sniffed victory back in 1997. Plus ca change, etc.

Airport Operators Association plucks benefits out of the ether


The Airport Operators Association has just whacked out a report claiming that the UK would lose £30 billion a year if we don't sign a global aviation deal at Copenhagen, as well as putting 700,000 jobs at risk. It seems maths is not the airline industry's strongest point.

The report concludes that the UK aviation industry contributes £18.4 billion to the UK economy, and employs 234,000 people. Now I'm not the best at sums, but £30 billion doesn't equal £18.4 billion, and 700,000 is not the same as 234,000. So where's the extra jobs and cash coming from?

This is all a bit complicated, so bear with me while I try and explain my confusion.

  1. The industry is currently supposed to be worth £18.4 billion and employing 234,000 people. These figures are pretty huge, and have historically been arrived at using all sorts of fiscal gymnastics, such as including anyone employed near an airport doing things vaguely related to the industry as directly employed by them. But let's take the figures at face value for a second.
  2. No global deal means we lose £30 billion and 700,000 jobs - figures far greater than the industry is supposed to be worth to the economy. These figures are forecasts: i.e. they are numbers made by projecting current earnings and employment levels into the future.
  3. They have to do this calculation twice: once for 'what the industry would be worth with a deal' and once for 'what the industry would be worth without a deal'. In the former, the rate of annual growth must be higher: i.e. there must be more planes and more airlines making more profit with a global deal than without (otherwise the global deal would lose the industry money).
  4. Both scenarios assume a particular rate of growth. This rate of growth is basically the multiplier you apply to the present figure to work out what the given value for the industry's output in year 20XX will be. Both growth rates, and I cannot stress this enough, are chosen by the consultants (normally based on past trends) and cannot account for real life factors, like the massive recession we're currently in, or the impact of CO2 limits on airlines.
  5. The industry would need to be worth substantially more than £30 billion at this arbitrary point in the future from which they are measuring. It has to be worth more than £30 billion because otherwise there wouldn't be an industry left - which is too far-fetched for even a report of this poor quality.
  6. Both valuations are fictional because they are entirely based on forecasts. The industry might be worth X in the future, and it might also be worth Y, but neither scenario is guaranteed.
  7. In other words, the report's authors have picked two numbers from the ether, declared one to be the value of the industry without a global deal, and one to be the value of the industry without a deal. They've then announced the difference between the two as the impact of the deal on the UK economy. (Ditto for job creation.)

This is a very long-winded way of saying that this report is a pile of nonsense, littered with completely insane predictions and madcapped ideas of what the future will look like. Back of a fag packet doesn't really cut it: whichever analyst cobbled this together should be held up as a shining example of how economics doesn't work, and barred from ever writing a economic analysis ever again.

I should also point out that the industry enjoys a £10 billion subsidy because it pays no fuel duty or VAT, and that we have a £20 billion tourism deficit. So an industry worth £18.4 billion (if we take those vested intrests' word for it) is already costing us £30 billion each year - global deal, or no deal.

Residents get peace and quiet as BAA cuts Glasgow winter services

British Airports Authority wants to close Glasgow Airport overnight and moth-ball Terminal 2 to save itself some money during the winter. Built only 5 years ago, Terminal 2 has been predominantly used by budget airlines specialising in short haul flights. It's a symbol of how the industry's unrelenting growth model has fallen apart with the recession.

Local residents had feared that the airport with passenger numbers could balloon from around 8 million to 24 million over the next 20 years. Now they're looking forward to getting a few decent nights sleep without the roar of planes overhead.

Activists visiting the local community over the past couple of years have noted increasing circumstantial evidence of serious illness and cancer clusters in the vicinity of the airport. We're trying to get progressive voices within the scientific and medical community to study the connections between airport noise and pollution, and ill-health and disease.

Of course not everyone is rejoicing at these plans, and Plane Stupid Scotland vehemently opposes any job losses arising from BAA's closure plans, or any changes to shift patterns that aren't made in full consultation and agreement with workers. It's not their fault that BAA over-reached and built more capacity than it needed. The responsibility lies squarely with the ever-greedy airport operator and its unwavering belief that the growth would never end.

They think it's all over...


Apologies for the lack of blog post yesterday declaring the conflict to be over and thanking everyone from my stylist to my cat's stylist to the drama teacher who believed in me. I was climbing in the Peak District, having first phoned BAA to check that they weren't planning to make any big announcements while I was away. Their publicist assured me that they weren't, so I packed my bags and went.

But through the impenetrable morning fog came a quiet vibrating. Leo: "Seen the news?" Me: "No, just drizzle and sheep." Leo: "BAA's canceled the third runway." Me: "Ah. Nice." Leo: "Oh, and half of Greenpeace is on the roof of Parliament."

So BAA has told Theresa Villiers that there's not to be a planning application submitted before the election, and Villiers has sworn that scrapping the third runway is a manifesto commitment. Unless the polls are wrong (and some of us who grew up under Thatcher might be wishing that they were) the Conservatives will win the next election. Ipso facto, no new runway at Heathrow.

At the moment it's all speculation, but it doesn't take a genius to work out that expansion at Stansted and Heathrow is pretty sunk. But that doesn't mean that the battle is over. Across the UK craven councillors, regional development tossers and the Secretary of State for Climate Change are all trying to get regional airports expanded. While the third runway may have been the symbol of climate illiteracy, regional airport expansion is a testament to the self-important: "Bristol has to have a great big airport or I'll feel inadequate when I meet councillors from other cities."

So rest assured: Plane Stupid is not giving up and going home. While last week was an awesome one for climate change activists - agreement on deforestation in the Amazon, no Kingsnorth, no third runway - there's still plenty of fight to be had. Over the next year we'll be taking on the regional airport expansion programme and that great generator of demand, deliberately misleading airline adverts ("Fly to Barcelona right fucking now or you'll have nothing to talk about at work on Monday"). We'd really like you to come along for the ride.

In fact, why not start now by grabbing your mates and dragging them to the Great Climate Swoop next weekend? You're also invited to Copenhagen in December, and why not join us as we occupy the runway of... oh wait, that action's a secret. You'll just have to wait and see.

Airlines launch media campaign to tackle climate change

It's official: climate change is over, and the aviation industry has come in out of the cold. Their latest campaign 'Save the Airlines from Copenhagen Cuts' will see a 200% increase in the number of press releases from starving airlines, all focused on one thing: making you think they're doing something about their emissions.

This campaign launches today, as BA Chairman Willie Walsh will make some announcement about a plan to reduce emissions from aviation by 50% below 2005 levels by 2050. It's a great announcement, which, as one of the commentators on the Guardian says, is, to its advantage, "unclutterd by any method of achieving the aim". Why bother with methodology or pathways when your target is so far off that you don't have to achieve it any time soon.

Indeed the new SaCC campaign has just one target: December's talks in Copenhagen. The industry really doesn't want to be lumbered into a Kyoto2 deal, so it figures that some good PR right about now will disuade cut-ready politicians from locking them into any legal framework. And what's better than offering to halve the Government's new target?

But there must be some hint at how the industry plans to achieve this preposterous new target. Let's look at it in a bit more detail. In 2005, according to the DfT, the industry emitted 37.5 million tonnes of CO2. In 2050, again according to the DfT, the industry was, as of January 2009, expected to emit around 59.9 million tonnes. But the airlines now think that they can reduce emission to 19 million tonnes.

But how do they plan to achieve this? Oh, right.

Carbon trading...

Now BAA is helping the War on Terror


Ask almost anyone under 30 what got them into politics and protesting, and I'll bet you a fiver they mention the Iraq war. For me, nothing symbolised the arrogance of Government more than a war no one wanted, which achieved nothing except the slaughter of hundreds of British troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

So BAA's latest PR campaign, destined for page 13 of local newspapers everywhere, makes me go a special kind of angry. We've already endured them press releasing the launch of the Bike to Work scheme as being part of a carbon reduction strategy; now we're subjected to Operation Patchwork Quilt.

OPQ is a hearts and minds spectacular, in which BAA took all their old security guard uniforms (otherwise destined for the rubbish bin) and gave them to Help for Heroes, a charity which seems dedicated to ignoring the single easiest way we could help the troops - getting them out of the war - in favour of blind patriotism and flag waving. Somewhere along the line they were dutifully stiched into quilts to be given to injured soldiers.

Now I'm sure everyone injured in Iraq and Afghanistan (soldiers and civilians alike) is crying out for a quilt, and that BAA's gratutious attempt to appear part of the community has touched their hearts. After all, a new quilt is a perfect replacement for having an arm or a leg blown off by a roadside bomb in a country you can't find on a map where no one wants you to be - especially if you come back to find your once peaceful village is now under the flightpath of a newly expanded airport.

Your chance to be an Airport Idol!


Fresh from the awesome Colin Matthews: one night only comedy gig (now touring the Edinburgh Festival), Plane Stupid Events Ltd. is proud to present our latest collaboration with BAA, which gives thousands the chance to project manage their own imaginary runway. It's the hottest reality TV programme of the summer!

Airport Idol: any runway will do! pits members of the public against each other to find out who's got what it takes to be the Big Kahuna, and who's just another piece of lost luggage. Competitors will be tested on their knowledge of "strict environmental limits" and consultation rigging, before battling it out for the covetted Airport Idol jackpot: up to £100,000 a year to design a runway that will never happen.

Sign up for Airport Idol: any runway will do!

We did ask BAA why they advertised their new jobs in an issue of the Guardian whose front page splashed with the news that the runway was all but cancelled, but they were too incadescent with rage to answer. Instead they agreed to forgo the usual job application malarkey and launch a new reality TV show to find their newest Head of R3 consultation and Head of Surface Access Strategy.

Places are limited, so act fast! Don't worry, you'll be able to download the theme music on iTunes later this week.