LinkedIn Article 02 March 2020
John Harvey - The Travel Carbon Project
Could the construction of a new 'Green Runway' at London Heathrow Airport be viewed as the world’s #1 travel carbon offset opportunity?
Sounds crazy right? But I’m talking here about the idea of replacing the current plans for airport growth with an alternative proposal for the third runway. No expansion in terminal buildings, facilities or flight capacity. Just the physical construction of a new runway (a 'Green Runway') to remove congestion and increase flight efficiency.
This would require all stakeholders to adopt a completely different perspective on the purpose of the development. It would need the Capital Markets, Government, Courts, Planners and Climate Protesters to accept that continued growth in capacity is not the only way that Airports and Airlines can succeed.
There is a global climate crisis. CO2 from aircraft engines is a primary contributor. Avoiding air travel may be argued as the best way to reduce travel carbon but, unless enough people do it collectively (and airline schedules are reduced) then aircraft still fly and no CO2 is saved.
The existing proposals for a third runway are based on development and infrastructure which enables growth in capacity: increasing flights and increasing travel carbon.
But, what if the runway is built – with no additional growth objective - what if flights were kept to the current LHR capacity of 480,000 movements a year?
The positive impact of a 'Green Runway' would be to REDUCE the time that EVERY single aircraft travelling to and from LHR spends in the sky - Especially the 240,000 landings.
Incoming aircraft are already slowed up to 350 miles out. Meaning air traffic controllers in Europe are actively slowing LHR bound planes because of congestion. When aircraft arrive into UK airspace they are then placed into holding patterns (further increasing time).
All of this can add 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes and more to every flight. Very rarely is an aircraft able to fly directly into LHR and land immediately without any holding.
Now imagine if all of that time is removed from every landing. Removing all of those additional hours of aviation fuel being burned. Perhaps 50,000 hours less flying (maybe more)? Stopping millions of tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere every year.
Building a third runway - a Green Runway - could offer a unique new focus for travel carbon funding and provide certainty that offset money is being spent on a project that directly REDUCES the environmental impact of flying.
It would also make the overall travel experience so much better for the 80 million people who travel through Heathrow each year!
If LHR continues with its current proposals for growth (and wins an appeal) it will take 10 years to build the planned extension. Not only will this increase capacity to over 700,000 movements a year but all of the interim CO2 savings potential will be lost.
There is much debate about the need to take 'urgent action' on climate change - why not apply this to building a new Green Runway? The UK has the proven ability to fast-track planning, remove red tape and build major civil engineering projects quickly - if it 'needs' to. (Think 2012 Olympics and the massive construction completed there in under 4 years).
Traditional investors may not like the idea of developing a new runway without commercial growth. However, more progressive investors, creative global corporations and travel carbon funds could be the way to make it happen. We just need to view the strategic challenge differently and measure ROI from an environmental perspective!
In terms of Travel Carbon reduction, a 'Green Runway' at London Heathrow could be the worlds #1 short term opportunity.
The positive impact of a 'Green Runway' would REDUCE the time that EVERY aircraft flying to and from LHR spends in the sky.
All major companies have the environment on their agenda and there is little doubt it will be a key subject for board discussion during 2020 and through the years ahead.
Previously, the main focus will have been on the impact of your company's own operations on the environment. This is now extending to the wider impact of the company’s overall activity - which includes corporate travel.
Any company that needs to travel to do business, has a challenge. Can it justify its travel? Can it demonstrate it has processes and systems designed to question the need for travel? Does it have a way of avoiding travel and utilising alternatives?
If it must travel, what is its approach to offsetting and investing in schemes that balance the impact of its travel on the environment?
CEOs will be expected to have a clear understanding of these subjects and be able to describe to shareholders, investors and the media how the company manages the situation today - and intends to deal with the impact of its travel going forward.
Previously, CEOs had little interest in the administration of the company travel programme - after all, the outside world rarely asked them how travel is booked or airfare savings are achieved.
But, now that travel has an environmental impact - the outside world becomes interested.