Expanding Heathrow would have knock-on consequences for the rest of the aviation sector under new government plans to cut emissions to zero by 2050.
While there is nothing in that target to stop the expansion of Heathrow, the industry is expected to keep creating greenhouse gases in future decades since carbon-neutral aircraft engines and electric planes are still thought to be a long way off.
John Gummer (Lord Deben), chair of the committee on climate change, told Sky News that Heathrow’s expansion would use up the majority of the envelope the aviation industry would have between now and 2050, implying that other schemes should not be permitted if the UK is to hit its climate targets.
“You’re not going to be able to have expansions of a different kind elsewhere. You can’t have [Heathrow’s third runway] and other things,” he said.
“It is for the government to decide what we as a nation put our priorities in. But it has to realise that it can’t move outside those parameters.”
The government has historically followed the recommendations laid down by the CCC, its official adviser on climate change.
MPs approved the Heathrow expansion, but without the knowledge that it might have prevented expansion at other airports, particularly those in Scotland and the north of England.
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said that she did not believe the aviation limits would prevent expansion of activity – provided new technologies improved aircraft efficiency.
He added: “As AOA we are keen to see all airports be able to grow in a sustainable way in the future. They only will not be able to [expand] if as a country we cannot meet those carbon emissions [targets] and we as a sector are committed to assuring we can meet those carbon emissions.
“We have a clear plan. We’re investing huge amounts via the airlines, via the manufacturers and via the airports themselves, which we believe will allow us to deliver that.
“The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
Warwick Brady, CEO of Southend and Carlisle airport owner Stobart Group, said: “Heathrow airport’s proposed expansion will be too little, too late for London.
“The UK capital’s travel needs will continue to grow at a rapid pace. It is important that the UK government and the next prime minister understands that this growth will trump any Brexit outcome for London’s aviation industry.
“The good news is that London Southend airport, which has more than 40 destinations and is London’s next big airport, is ready to spread the air travel capacity across the capital.
“The environment is a clear concern. More than a third of London Southend’s passengers travel by train thanks to routes running between London Liverpool St station and London Southend station.”