06 Dec 2019

All the political parties' manifestos have now been published and there are some strong pledges being made particularly on emissions and climate change. The Tories recognise the role of aviation and the importance of connectivity to the UK economy. The new third runway at Heathrow is still supported provided it can demonstrate that it can meet all the conditions on noise, air quality and carbon reductions as required in the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS). They are also keeping to their pre-election position to reduce carbon emissions and pollution to reach net zero carbon by 2050. 

Labour also recognise the importance of aviation to the economy but has a more ambitious target for zero carbon to occur within the 2030s. It still supports the proposals for Heathrow but any expansion of airports must pass their tests on air quality, noise pollution, climate change obligations and countrywide benefits.

The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have a markedly different position on aviation. The Lib Dems have a 10 year emergency programme to reduce carbon but with hard-to-treat sectors being given until 2045. The Greens have no such flexibility. They wish to see net zero carbon by 2030. Both parties however want to penalise frequent flying by reforming the taxation system. Both parties are also against any expansion at Heathrow and other SE airports.

The SNP recognises its remote location and dependence on flying. It wants to see net zero carbon by 2040 with more research and development spend on electric planes and reduced carbon fuels. Plaid Cymru focuses on Cardiff Airport which it supports including the devolution of Air Passenger Duty to give it a more competitive advantage.

By its nature, aviation needs to be seen in an international context. Also, given the vast number of flights within the EU in particular, the policies of the EU Parliament and Commission will influence the aviation industry. The new von der Leyen Commission is the current European Commission in office since 1 December 2019. It has a strong environmental focus with plans for a new European Green Deal being proposed which intends "to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2030." Aviation emissions will come under the spotlight with a less favourable and more costly position for aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

Following the UK elections, the former government had already promised a new aviation strategy to be published in the new year which will have an updated position on aviation and climate change. Depending on the outcome of the election, the aviation strategy will be eagerly awaited by those in the industry given the spectrum of policies being promoted. Whatever happens though the industry will be expected to meet the new environmental challenges particularly on climate change. Meanwhile the industry does seem to be rising to these challenges with easyjet's announcement to fully fund a climate offset scheme for all its passengers. There are also calls in the industry for more research and development on sustainable fuels and on engine technology to reduce, and eventually remove, carbon emissions. Airports are also playing their part by seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint by adopting targets to becoming carbon neutral in operations and supply chains over which they have control.

Kevin Gibbs, Senior Counsel, comments: 

"The Net Zero ambitions of the UK political parties are clearly ambitious. To turn these ambitions into reality will need substantial changes to take place in practice and the government has indicated that a new aviation strategy is to be published in the New Year which will have an updated position on aviation and climate change. We will see what changes are announced in the strategy but already the industry is making changes. Airport operators & the wider aviation industry are raising their game to meet challenging carbon targets. Whichever party wins come 13 December, more research & development is needed on carbon-free fuel options, efficiency & eventually electric engines as well as airspace changes to minimise all emissions from aircraft."