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The UK airport expansion vs. climate concerns.

It’s supposedly hard to argue, that development comprises movement, ahead in particular. Movement, in its turn, presupposes making some steps in order to reach the targeted place of destination. Thus, these are interrelated notions. The process of development includes a number of adjacent efforts to keep the necessary pace and not slow down. Obviously, to achieve success it’s essential one have the objective, endeavors, resources and competitive stance. The latter is especially important since to win out your place in the sun appears to be not that simple after all. One is supposed to be ready to meet challenges on the way and be able to overcome hindrances with the least losses. Only by means of persistent continuous attempts can one withstand hardships and become stronger and wiser. This is true in regard not only to individual human progress, but also everything undergoing the stages of growth.

In this tight connection it is fair to speak about the development of UK air transport system which has gone through, and still continues to, lots of changes, reconstructions and re-establishments. Presumably, there is no need to get deep insight into the whole history of airports evolvement though to encompass a few the most significant and prominent of them would help clear up the motives and driving power of their growth.

London Heathrow deservedly serves one of such examples. The airport comprises international busy hub with the capacity to carry more than 68 mln passengers who use both long haul and short distance flights. Moreover, the airport makes its airfreights of over 1.3 mln cargo per annum. Still, not always has it demonstrated such efficiency. Its inception started in 1940s. 1946 saw the emergence of grass air field that was initially used by the military. First it was in private hands and as the Great Western Aerodrome it fulfilled more supplementary function rather than a full-fledged racecourse. After the end of war the airport began to expand and the area of its application was far more than just army base.

 The demand for such expansion was stipulated by the necessity of big airport in London for passenger haulages to take place. The Heathrow site perfectly suited the idea and thus, there were constructed three runways by 1947. The initial tented terminal gave way to a full-blown building at the beginning of 1950s. The incentive for further more large-scale development had its grounds being the increasing surge of traffic and therefore the passenger turnover enlargement. Naturally, there arose need in extra conveniences and utilities to satisfy the growing flow of passengers. The expansion was represented by the Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 in 1955 and later a few other terminals in 1960s. Because there was considerable repletion in the centre of the airport another Terminal 4 appeared in the southern part in 1980s (Heathrow airport guide). Nowadays modern Heathrow airport has comfortable passenger access assisted by a number of adjoining roads – rails and automobile, and plays indispensible and economically convincing role in the overall UK air transport revenue. The expansion process further proceeds, however, it faces much opposition as well.

Evidently, Heathrow is not the only one on the airport list. The second largest UK airport is Gatwick which is estimated to take the tenth place among the busiest international airports in the world. Its passenger capacity is difficult to overestimate – over 35 mln annually. Originally the aerodrome belonged to private owner Home Counties Aviation Services and has tremendously grown to include the terminal in 1936. There were skillfully built the subways and tented access roads for passengers to have easy and comparatively unhampered passage (History of London Heathrow Airport).

 Like Heathrow Gatwick also served as the Royal Air Force base at the war time but later in 1953 it acquired the status of London second airport. In a few years Gatwick was significantly enlarged with new necessary equipment and facilities added to become the terminal. It embraced not only a large runway (2000 feet), but also included a covered passage connecting the plane with terminal.  1980s were marked by a more passenger surplus to be a million people. Needless to say, how important such increase was in terms of the role of the airport on the international scale. It has undergone further extension and in 1978 was already carrying transatlantic flights with long-distance aircrafts and upgraded terminal. The years of 1990s and 2007 saw staggering enhancement in passenger turnover of 10 and 35 million respectively. To satisfy ever-increasing demand the aspiration of further airport expansion becomes apparent, though such objective encounters severe protest on behalf of Green politics supporters and local residents (Gatwick airport guide).

The excurse into the history of UK airport development may be continued and be added by the examples of Luton, Bristol, Stansted, Carlishe and other airports which demonstrate the need to cope with capacity and satisfy the growing demand with adequate offer.

Up to a point, it is relevant to focus on today’s topical issues concerned with UK airport development. As it was previously mentioned, the expansion was driven by economic factors namely being the passenger surplus and international business relations tacked with constant airline usage. So, it is quite evident that these factors would induce air companies to keep with the time and sustain competitiveness and importance in a globalized arena.

In 2003 the government issued Air Transport White Paper which introduced plans of further airport expansion – building of new runways with the aim to handle the increasing demand for air transportation. The governmental decision presupposes three additional runways at Stansted, one more at Heathrow, some extra tracks in Edinburgh and Glasgow and also expansions of Bristol (Airport Bristol International Airport Expansion) and Birmingham. According to Transport Secretary, A. Darling, the number of passengers would increase and comprise twice as many as 180m p.a. to achieve 400m by 2020. The paper foresees three more runways at Stansted which would transform it into another significant airport centre along with Heathrow or make it assisting Heathrow supplement. A probable expansion of Luton and Cardiff airports were also envisaged. Regarding Gatwick, the extension process is supposed to last till 2019 which is conditioned by the existing agreement that bans expansion actions (BBC News, 2002, 23 July).

 However, the government paper didn’t get a unanimous reaction. On the one hand, the expansion is necessary on the grounds of economic benefits since the UK has as Mr. Darling put it “the fourth largest economy in the world based largely on our ability to trade. Something like a third of exports go by air ...” (BBC News, 2002). What is more, a number of the UK use airline users is persuasively stunning – half the whole population annually and about quarter twice p.a.

In addition, the governmental plans are to a large extent consistent with the predictions of considerable traffic surplus by 2030, particularly in south-eastern part of the country which is distinguished by population overflow. Facts are stubborn thing, actually. Out of 200m annual airline passengers in the UK 120m get advantage of South East airports. Think only, the role of Heathrow!  It has irrefutable and undeniable economic significance counting nearly 100,000 staff and the aviation industry stands for approximately 200,000 work places. Not the least of the influential factors in favor of expansion is that London is an attractive sightseeing place for visitors from the whole world with its prominent and famous sights. London airports serve an undeniable role in business flights both long- and short-distanced (BBC News, 2005, Feb 18).

Collin Matthews, BAA's chief executive, emphasizes and explains the necessity of airport expansion giving convincing arguments: “It is because of the lack of runway capacity at Heathrow that airlines are forced to choose between old destinations and new – or to go elsewhere entirely. Last month alone Leeds/Bradford and Durham Tees Valley airports both lost their links to Heathrow as airlines shuffled their slots, while Air India decided to base its European hub at Frankfurt” (, 2009, May 13). He also pointed out on no additional tracking slot to enable take-offs and landing which gives reason for airlines to shift from Heathrow to other alternative European airports. His claims turn out to be quite fair, especially those revealing the urgent need to expand since the contemporary tendency shows ever-inclining global policy towards Asian economies. Therefore, as Mr. Matthew accentuates, three must significant extensions be made in order to not to concede to Frankfurt airport, for instance, which “has direct links with six Chinese cities” compared to London’s only Heathrow possible to carry out such transfers. Thus, it becomes clear why the expansion is so necessary – enlarge capacity not to lag behind. Such a thorny issue can’t but get a dual response and the opposition is also pertinent. Still, weighing pros and cons one can not deny the evident fact that under the mentioned circumstances expansion plans are justified to “keep UK competitive.”

What is the basis for opposition then? A fair question that needs to shed light on. There is a sound ground for the adversary force – the astonishing impact on climate (Sean O'Grady. 2007, Aug. 15). However prudent economic reasons may be the airport expansion implications are inevitably concerned with green policy (Juliette Jowit, Economics, pollution, jobs and noise ... 2009, January 16). The numerous activists object to the plans on expansion. The protests underline severe damage the aviation inflicts on nature (Alok Jha, green technology correspondent. 2008, Nov 18). Thus, air and noise pollution are first obvious aftereffects (BBC News, Q&A: Airport expansion. 2005) For instance, Heathrow expansion will enlarge flight numbers entailing traffic jams on the roads to the airport, namely the M25 and the M4 highways in London. That is why BAA (the Heathrow owner) is obliged to establish emission-reducing systems in the aircrafts to comply with climate protection regulations.

Strong and determined is the Airportwatch opposition called for to organize non-expansion movement. The organization representatives are those who virtually comprise environmentalists, among which are Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Aviation Environment Federation, the Campaign for Better Transport, the Woodland Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the World Development Movement, Environmental Protection UK etc (Airportwatch, 2004). The opposition showed indignation since the government gets full advantage of its plans – there are no taxes on aviation fuel and what is more, the air sector is not included into the Kyoto protocol and the EU's carbon trading scheme (The Independent. 2007, August 15).

Consequently, the Government’s airport development and expansion plans must be put into force taking into account environmental concerns, i.e. realization of the climate implications, thus being consistent with the aims of reduction of carbon dioxide emissions (Colin Brown, Almost half of population want green tax on air travel. 2007, August 15). Such a ruling was stated by the High Court indicating inappropriateness and crude character of the governmentally proposed plans. Moreover, the verdict also ruled that the 2003 White Paper "The Future of Air Transport" by no means complies with the 2008 Climate Change Act (WWF-UK, Update on Heathrow Legal Challenge). So, the White Paper needs proper reconsideration to enable new runway plans to incorporate economic and environmental aspects.




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