Further thought needed on airport expansion

The Airports Commission report by Sir Howard Davies published today (1 July) recommends the development of a third runway at Heathrow.  But the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is calling for the Government to give further thought to a three important areas before making a final decision on the Commission’s recommendation.

Wider transport infrastructure: Any airport expansion cannot be considered in isolation, but as part of the transport system as a whole.

There are significant challenges that need to be addressed in relation to creating an appropriate rail link to the west of Heathrow airport. Currently all freight to and from Heathrow is by road. By looking at the rail and road strategy alongside the airport expansion, there is scope to consider the opportunity to develop a rail-freight link, not just for cargo, but also for all the “supplies” that the maintenance, flight catering and retail stores consume.

Government needs to take into consideration security that will ensure the safety of the new airfields; especially in the expansion of Heathrow.  Expanding Heathrow as the existing UK hub could create a bigger risk in a single-point of failure. Due regard must be given to resilience against extreme weather conditions and security incidents.

Future business and technology development: There needs to be consideration of the wider business drivers (e.g. the need to develop UK research and innovation, to grow high technology manufacturing industry, to support the financial and insurance sectors in the City, etc.).

Technology will play a major part in improving efficiency and reducing emissions in air travel. There needs to be further discussion on air traffic management and aircraft systems. Technological development in these areas will increase existing airfield movement capacity, albeit with a need to improve passenger and freight handling systems.

Increasing use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS): An early adopter of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) will be freight transport. The regulatory hurdles for the use of autonomous air vehicles need to be cleared.
UAS developments could drive a significant increase in aircraft movements or it could move freight away from central hubs to dispersed regional airfields, or change how we transport goods by air.

There needs to be a review of the airspace structures and changes to flight paths that introducing UAVs for freight may have.  A consultation should seek responses from the UAS and freight industries.

The technologies being developed for unmanned aircrafts will also enable single pilot operation of aircrafts. In this model there will be only one seat in the cockpit for a captain while on the ground there will be an operator filling the role of either “super dispatcher” or first officer. This technology also has the potential to reduce separation between aircraft, altering assumptions about airspace and runway loading and could impact the economic model for airline operations.

Notes to editors:

  • Interview opportunities are available with IET spokespeople from a broad range of engineering and technology disciplines including cyber-security, energy, engineering skills, innovation, manufacturing, technology, transport and women in engineering.
  • The IET is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions with over 163, 000 members in 127 countries. It is also the most interdisciplinary – to reflect the increasingly diverse nature of engineering in the 21st century. Energy, transport, manufacturing, information and communications, and the built environment: the IET covers them all.
  • The IET is working to engineer a better world by inspiring, informing and influencing our members, engineers and technicians, and all those who are touched by, or touch, the work of engineers.
  • We want to build the profile of engineering and change outdated perceptions about engineering in order to tackle the skills gap. This includes encouraging more women to become engineers and growing the number of engineering apprentices.
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