Scottish airports could lose 220,000 passengers if Heathrow expands

Scottish airports could lose more than 220,000 passengers if the £14 billion third runway at Heathrow goes ahead, according to official government figures.

Increased competition from Newcastle airport, which is forecast to have more flights to London if the airport’s expansion goes ahead, is one reason cited for a projected fall in business for Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, according to the Department for Transport.

The figures were obtained by a freedom of information request, putting pressure on the Scottish Government to clarify its transport policy while calling into question claims by the UK Government that Heathrow’s expansion will create 16,000 jobs in Scotland.

Internal emails reveal that Department for Trade figures provided to the Scottish Government last year predicted a loss of 220,450 passengers jointly between Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports by 2030.

Glasgow could see a fall of an estimated 171,037 passengers over the next decade while Edinburgh could lose 49,413 people, according to a table of projections by the UK government.

The official projections also said that Glasgow is predicted to lose 267,868 passengers by 2040 and although Edinburgh is forecast to gain 119,321 people by then, the net loss jointly to Scotland’s two major airports would be 148,457.

Estimates of aviation emissions from an expanded Heathrow were redacted in the emails released.

Until recently the Scottish Government officially supported a third runway at Heathrow after signing a memorandum of understanding in October 2016.

In May, however, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said backing for the expansion of the UK’s busiest airport was under review in the wake of her decision to announce a “climate emergency”.

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said it had always maintained that the continued growth of Heathrow, already the UK’s busiest airport, would be “at the detriment of Scotland’s airports and these projections demonstrate exactly that”.

He added: “Creating a huge monopoly airport in the south east of England will clearly have an adverse impact on other airports around the country and the perception that we are feeder airports for London is as outdated as it is false.

“Scotland’s international reputation makes it a must see destination and we should be making it easier to get here by providing direct connectivity across the world, enabling inbound and outbound travel which directly benefits our tourism industry, our economy and our country.

“We are an international airport in our own right, one that delivers economic benefit through jobs and business. We should be working to release the even greater potential that Scotland’s industry has, not grounding it by an obsession with Heathrow.”

Scottish Green transport spokesperson John Finnie challenged the Scottish Government to clarify its position on the issue, arguing it was “simply incompatible” with a climate emergency to “relentlessly pursue growth in air travel”.

Finnie added: “They (Scottish Government) tell us they’ll come up with a climate change plan in six months, but meanwhile they support an expansion of Heathrow while our airports compete for new capacity. Declaring a climate emergency is meaningless unless the Scottish Government also has the will to address the main contributors to it. Warm words will not address global climate change.”

However, Glasgow Airport said it uses independent forecasts on future passenger numbers and supported Heathrow’s expansion, although not unconditionally.

A spokesperson for Glasgow Airport said: “We will always seek to secure direct links with airports throughout Europe and beyond, however, if Scotland is to remain competitive it’s important we maintain and, where possible, enhance our links with key hubs such as Heathrow.

“Given the important role it plays in supporting the Scottish economy and the onward connectivity it provides, we have supported the third runway. Our support is not unconditional. We’re quite clear that an expanded Heathrow must deliver further access for Glasgow and Scotland which we’re confident will be the case.”

Revealed: how Scottish airports lobbied for £300m tax cut

A Department for Transport spokesperson said a new runway at Heathrow would bring real benefits to Scotland, adding that as well as creating opportunities for “new and more frequent routes” passengers will be able to “choose from a wider range of destinations to travel, and enjoy cheaper fares.”.

The Scottish Government said the decision on airport expansion rests with the UK government and that the memorandum of understanding signed with Heathrow Airport will potentially bring “significant job creation and investment opportunities” to Scotland.

A Scottish Government spokesman continued: “We have already announced a change in our policy on air departure tax. Later this month, our new National Transport Strategy (NTS2) will be launched for public consultation. It will set the future direction for transport over the next 20 years and identifies taking climate action as a priority.

“We are currently commissioning independent research to inform what further action is needed to decarbonise the Scottish transport sector, this will consider a range of policy measures across all modes.

“We have been a leader in this field for many years. Our Climate Change Act made us the first country in the world to include a fair share of emissions from international aviation in our legally binding annual targets.”

Campaigners against the expansion of Heathrow Airport were given permission last month to challenge a High Court ruling over plans for the third runway.

The High Court case was brought by local authorities and residents in London affected by the expansion, and charities including Greenpeace, Friends Of The Earth and Plan B.

The campaigners claimed the UK government’s National Policy Statement setting out its support for the project failed to properly deal with the impact on air quality, climate change, noise and congestion.

This story was published by The Sunday Post on 4 August 2019.

Documents released by the Scottish Government

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