Business leaders are supposed to have a head for figures, and certainly pretend to be anti-ideological and just dealing with facts (when they aren't giving 110% that is). So why did the British Chamber of Commerce put out a report yesterday which massively overstated the case for the third runway?
The BCC are about as unreformed as capitalists get; never happier than when they're plundering our future and ferretting the proceeds into offshore bank accounts. But their report, entitled 'Why destroying Sipson and Harmondsworth will make me millions', makes a number of very basic errors which a GCSE media studies student would have been failed for. Stand by for a techie, economics-jargon filled discusion of monetised benefits...
Firstly, the BCC report claims £30bn benefits from expansion, but forgot to include any costs. This includes the cost of climate change, noise, air pollution, and congestion and is a bit like saying asbestos is great at stopping fire without mentioning that is also highly toxic. It also means that the report failed to take into account the value of time lost by executives sitting in traffic on the M4 and M25 as they try in vain to get to the airport (see below).
Secondly, those £30b benefits are predominantly aggregated time savings, not actual money. To work this out, the BCC has worked out how many people will save how much time once the runway is built and multiplied that by the value of each minute they're saving. Famous critic of time saving valuation John Adams once worked out that the best place to put London's third airport, given the extent that economic benefits favour time savings, was Hyde Park. However BCC has gone further, using a figure which is 40% higher than the Department for Transport uses. I know business leaders have inflated sense of their own worth, but that's ridiculous.
Thirdly, they calculated the relationship between economic growth and investment in infrastructure according to the figure in the Eddington report, of 0.2% increase in GDP per 1% increase in capital spend. Never mind that Eddington was the former head of British Airways and trying to justify airport expansion; this figure has always sat at odds with the most comprehensive study of infrastructure investment, the Standing Advisory Council on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA).
The 1990s studies by SACTRA found that there was little or no link between investment in infrastructure and economic growth. If you can force yourself to read 300+ pages of economic-speak, you'll discover that: non-transport factors in a region (such as the availability of skilled labour) were usually a more critical factor in regenerating a region than transport infrastructure, and there would be winners and losers when new transport infrastructure was built - competitive areas may gain improved access to weaker areas, which in turn may suffer job losses.
Next the BCC made loads of claims about the benefits of transfer passengers. Former BA boss Bob Ayling dismissed this, saying that transfer passengers only benefit the economy by buying a cup of tea and a biscuit. CE Delft challenged the view that, if Heathrow does not expand, firms will locate to other cities in Europe which have large and expanding airports:
"Although the access to good aviation links is one of the location factors for new companies, it should be noted that currently London is already ranked number 1 for its transport links with other cities and internationally. Notably, the impact of the location factor ´access to air services´ is of greater importance with regard to companies’ decisions on where to invest within the UK, than on the decision regarding the country in which first to locate……. One may ask oneself the question what additional effects could be expected from further adding to the capacity of the airport."
Finally, the BCC forgot an age old adage of economics: people like to spend money. Their report assumes that if we can't buy an airline ticket, we'll hoard our money under the bed and never, ever spend it. This is nonsense of the first degree: if flights to the Bahamas are too expensive, we'll go to France or Italy (or Blackpool) instead. CE Delft: "It is clear that the money currently spent on aviation would be spent in alternative ways in other sectors if there had been no aviation, or in case of restrictions on runway capacity. Thus it would also contribute to GDP and employment, and have indirect and induced effects."
So dodgy facts, omissions and outright untruths: pretty much what we've come to expect from the aviation industry. And to think that the authors of this report are the very people the Government keeps going to for economic advice. Could that be why we're in such a bloody mess?
One of the delights of the eco-business bandwagon is watching the truly clueless clamber about making absurd claims and promises which they have no hope nor intention of keeping. The carbon-neutral airport is a recent example; only by discounting all the emissions from planes can this feat be achieved, which, of course, renders it entirely meaningless. But it seems that business has been competing to see who can launch the most useless project to cut CO2 emissions... and BAA has surged into the lead.
Not content with pretending that the sole purpose of a new runway at Heathrow is to reduce emissions from stacking, they're now trying to cut the tiny proportion of emissions which come from their staff commutting to work, and have launched a cycle to work scheme. They've got lofty ambitions to reduce the number of people driving to work by... wait for it... 1% year on year.
Two points: firstly, this is not a BAA initiative, but a Government scheme which allows people to offset the cost of a bike against their VAT and NI payments. Every other company in the UK runs it. (If you work for one which doesn't, go and ask your finance department why not. Right now. Seriously, we'll wait for you.)
Secondly, there is no excuse whatsoever for staff working in the daytime to drive to Heathrow. The roads are all gridlocked anyway, and Heathrow is served by: the Heathrow Express from Paddington, the Piccadilly line, buses from Guildford and Woking, free buses into most of Hayes and Harmondsworth, other trains from Paddington, buses from Uxbridge and further buses from the east, west, north and south of the airport. Anyone driving in is so bloody stupid that they ought to be sacked immediately and their innards stretched across Bath Road for all to see. In fact when I've been locked on to BAA I've noticed that the vast majority of staff at their Point West offices arrive by bus anyway...
But don't let me put you off - BAA is still, to their credit, offering people the chance to get a cheap bike. There's just one catch though: as the announcement makes clear, "the scheme is open for sign ups between 1 July and 2 July". I hope that's inclusive, othewise there's only a non-existent metaphysisical nano-second in which to get your form in. It's almost like they don't want any applicants...
Monday the 22nd of June was Virgin Atlantic's 25th Anniversary. Branson has been pushing the joke that biofuels are the solution to another 25 years of aviation growth, so we decided to team up with Action Against Agrofuels and join in the party. Our tickets must have got lost in the post, but we dressed up and strolled along anyway.
The balloon banner rose through the main lobby of Terminal 3, and minutes later Heathrow tube shut. The underground crew got out just as the station was closing, and despite the fact that the area was now full of fluro vests and cop cars, two stewardesses calmly unfolded their collapsible ladder and climbed onto the roof of the porch entrance to departures.
Their escorts unravelled a giant banner, and two more stewardesses emerged from inside the building. They tossed around handfuls of banner confetti that read ‘biofuels, no way out’ and gleefully squirted silly string on the growing group of intrigued travellers. Meanwhile on the roof, our ladies in red were applying their lipstick and arranging thier coconut pillbox hats.
The headgear was a reference to Virgin's biofuel experiment last year. The flight from London to Amsterdam contained just 5% coconut oil, yet the journey still required 150,000 coconuts for a one-way flight from London to Amsterdam. Yep, that’s 150,000 thousand coconuts. To cover just 5% of one flight. Across the Channel. To put it into perspective, that's enough coconuts to make 300,000 pina coladas.
There’s a farcical discrepancy between how biofuels are dressed up, and what their actual impacts are. The evidence suggests that agro fuels take more carbon to produce than just using kerosene outright, and bring with them the complications of deforestation and mass hunger.
After half an hour or so of falling into step with amused Virgin stewardesses and friendly banter with passengers, the police decided that everyone was having far too much fun and proceeded to arrest everyone. Heathrow is covered by SOCPA - the legislation that ‘protects’ parliament from spontaneous protest. 9 people were taken away on suspicion of aggravated trespass and breach of bylaws.
Apparently the airport's cherry picker had left from the far side of the runways as soon as it heard of the protest, it’s just not very fast, and Heathrow is very, very big. So the two on the roof held out till 1pm, as the re-enactment of Virgins maiden flight was boarding.
Everyone was held without charge till 11 that night and bailed to return.
Just hours after disrupting an aviation conference with rape alarms and helium baloons, Manchester Plane Stupid targeted the aviation industry's gala dinner held at the town hall. Protestors scaled two lamposts and erected a 15m banner reading, "Aviation Industry Conference - Climate Criminals Inside".
The banner drop created a lot of attention from the public and continued the pressure on the aviation industry who are attempting to greenwash the climate issue. The Aviation conference included the launch of a new initiative to make airports carbon neutral. However, this does not include the emissions from flights which currently account for around 13% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions.
"It's time for the aviation industry to wake up and to start a just transition to replace aviation jobs with emerging sustainable industries such as wind turbines," said Vanessa Hall, former city councillor and Green parlimentary candidate for Manchester Central.
"There is no such thing as a 'carbon neutral' airport, 'carbon neutral' is a term used for offsetting projects that rarely result in any real reduction in emissions. This project is even more deceptive as it won't include the massive emissions from planes," said James Alden, Green parlimentary candidate.
Campaigners disrupted an airport industry conference today using rape alarms tied to helium balloons. The protesters from the group Manchester Plane Stupid entered the Manchester Central conference venue and sent the helium balloons reading 'Happy Retirement' to the top of the ceiling where they remained with the alarms ringing.
This occurred just as the industry delegates were posing for a photo shoot for the launch of a new carbon reduction scheme at European airports - which will not include emissions from aircraft. Meanwhile, other protesters held a banner outside the entrance reading, 'Aviation Industry Conference – Climate Criminals Inside'.
The group were protesting against the aviation's growing contribution to climate change. Megan Sims from Manchester Plane Stupid said, "The airport industry is recklessly pushing ahead with expansion plans across the UK and Europe despite all the warnings about climate change. We cannot pursue this growth agenda if we are serious about tackling global warming."
"Their latest back-patting exercise is yet more greenwash from the airport industry. They provide the growth of the facilities for aircraft to operate and encourage more flights, more emissions and more climate change."
The three day conference was being hosted by Airports Council International. The conference was suspended whilst house staff struggled to remove the floating alarms from the ceiling.
The airlines are collapsing. Air traffic is down 11%. BA can't afford to pay its staff. Airports are looking more and more like ghost towns. It's bad news all round - and UK tax payers could be asked to bail out the third runway should (or rather, when) BAA and Ferrovial bite the financial dust.
The Government has been planning a belt-and-braces plan to take over BAA's airports should it go into administration. MP John McDonnell - wielder of maces, defender of Hayes and Harlington - discovered that we'd end up spending tax revenue on the expansion itself.
"We know the Government is going to have to pay for the collateral damage in terms of the impact on the local communities, the shift of populations, the new schools, the creation of new communities elsewhere for these people to live," he told the House of Commons.
"We now believe there will be direct subsidy as a result of BAA's precarious financial position and the precarious financial position of Grupo Ferrovial globally (BAA's parent company) and that we will have to actually subsidise the development itself, the construction of the runway and the terminal."
No, said Transport Minister and runner up in the 2004 Medway bullfrog lookalike competition Paul Clark. Heathrow was so awesome we just had to have more of it. He did make one concession though: Heathrow expansion should not come "at any price".
Given that the price is already the communities of Sipson and Harmonsworth, the undermining of our carbon reduction targets, the breaching of EU NOx levels, the health and wellbeing of most of London and more bloody flights to nowhere, just what price does the amphibious Minister think is too high to pay?
5 eco activists have shut down operations at London City Airport. The group, who are wearing pinstriped suits and bowler hats entered at 2.30 am today. They cut through the perimeter fence and formed a human wheel clamp around one of the airport’s business jet fleet at the west end of the runway. The need to avoid sparks around highly flamable aviation fuel could mean that the normal process of cutting them out of their armtubes could be severely hampered.
The ‘eco-takeover’ puts the spotlight on the selfishness of private jet use:
“Because of their low passenger capacity, small jets emit between five and 10 times more carbon per passenger than commercial flights,” said spokeswoman Nancy Birch. “In an age where we face potentially catastrophic climate change, this is no longer an acceptable form of transport. It’s time that private jets were grounded for good.”
Until the downturn, the private jet business was the fastest growing segment of the aviation sector. Over the last ten years it has expanded by almost 50%.
“This is yet another example of the insane rush towards massive airport and flight expansion,” Birch concludes. “The aviation industry seems to think it can pollute its way out of climate change. But anyone with half a brain will know that this is just plane stupid.”
London City airport blights the lives of some of the poorest people in London. Newham experiences air pollution levels which regularly exceed EU safety limits for hightly toxic chemicals such as nitrus oxide and has the highest levels of mortality in under 30s in the UK from asthma, a matter that AsthmaUK are currently investigating.
While it seems the group have successfully shut down the private jet centre, locals are reporting that public flights started running from City from 7am.