More Government cover-up over Heathrow impacts

Another Sunday Times splash: those naughty officials at DfT spent 16 months trying to stop Justine Greening, MP for Putney, seeing information about the third runway. This includes emails which pointed out that "some consultees may ... claim collusion" between the Department for Transport and BAA.

Not only did they do everything to delay releasing documents, but they doctored reports to remove references to technical documents so that campaigners wouldn't know they existed. According to the Sunday Times, a memo from the senior strategy manager on Heathrow at BAA explicitly asks for a reference to BAA technical notes to be removed. It then adds: "He has avoided all references to the TNs [technical notes] in the surface access report and suggests, which I would agree with, that if [name redacted] can change his reference it could minimise the opportunity for a request for access to any or all of the TNs."

The emails show that the Government beefed up a consultation of businesses in the South East to make its case. Just 2.6% of the 6,000 businesses consulted bothered to reply, but the DfT still claimed that 90% of businesses relied on expansion, even though it was obvious that only those with a vested interest in the third runway had bothered to respond.

Nothing the Government did when making the case for expansion was above board. Civil servants and BAA sat down and openly conspired together to try and get the runway built. They moved the NOx meters further from the source of emissions to play down the levels of pollution. They invented magic planes which made no noise and emitted next to nothing (and which no engineer in their right mind would trust to get off the ground in one piece).

These reports are a damning paper trail of the lengths the Government would go to sell for communities around Heathrow down the river. It's time for heads to fall, but the Government will doubtless stand by Sir Humphrey and chums. That's no surprise: there's been a revolving door between Labour and the aviation industry since they first sniffed victory back in 1997. Plus ca change, etc.

DfT officials ignoring Plain English Campaign courses

Crystal Mark 2008

Civil servants are reknowned for their gobbledygook, so it's refreshing to see that the DfT has started sending its officials on Plain English Campaign courses in how to speak like everyone one else. In 2007/2008 the Department spent £2,868 on such courses.

Unfortunately they don't seem to have learnt anything, because 2007/2008 was the year when the DfT was working on the Heathrow consultation. A consultation so inpenetrable that it was described as "effectively tak[ing] away human rights" and "not [a] real consultation" because civil servants designed it "in such a way that most people are unable to take part."

So who gave such a damning critique of the consultation? Step forward Chrissie Maher, founder of the Plain English Campaign! Tut tut: sounds like those officials weren't paying attention. Will Hoon be sending them back to school? Somehow I doubt it.

DfT report shows public confused about airport expansion


Flight path

Whatdya think about aviation? Like the quick trips to New York to go Christmas shopping but hate the roar of jets overhead? Think we’ve broadened our horizons but terrified of climate change? Think your travel is essential but everyone else is binge flying? Then congratulations! You’re a member of the British public.

Yesterday the Government released its annual Attitudes to Aviation report, which showed that people are confused about airport expansion and climate change. Take some headline stats: 48% of people think we should expand our airports to boost the economy but 60% think we should limit expansion to protect the local environment and 56% oppose expansion on climate change grounds. 22% of people simultaneously want to expand airports and limit their expansion. At the same time.

BAA invented super-green-jumbo to make case for third runway

Invented plane

God bless the Sunday Times. After exposing a whole host of nonsense from BAA (including how they tried to influence the Competition Commission's report), they've now discovered that BAA faked one of the central claims of the Government's case for expansion.

BAA were given the now-famous "strict, local environmental limits" by the Government, and told that expansion could not take place if either noise or pollution would breach these limits. When it became obvious that the runway would be way too noisy and polluting, they invented a new type of super-jumbo which was uber-quiet and non-polluting.

The plane was going to be so popular that by 2030 it would account for more flights out of Heathrow than any other 4-engined aircraft (including the Airbus A380 and other jumbos). But neither Airbus nor Boeing have any plans for such a plane; nor do engineers think it's even possible to build one. Even the Government was sceptical, but BAA told them there wasn't time to revise the data... so in it went.

Department for Transport: frequent flyers



If you've looked at the Department for Transport's website, you'll know that it's very worried about the environment. It launched an eco-driving programme, asking drivers ever so nicely if they'd mind not speeding everywhere. It is terribly concerned about water pollution, with the Highways Agency tripping over itself to tackle chemical run-off from its motorways. And it obsesses over newts, splashing cash re-housing the endangered amphibians whenever it wants to build a motorway through their habitat.

But climate change? Not a chance. For all its fine words about how it's the 'greatest threat since sliced bread', behind closed doors it's business as usual. Take domestic flights: how many do you think the Department took last financial year? How many pampered civil servants thought themselves above the rigours of train or video-conferencing, and jumped on an easyJet special last year?

The answer is a bit staggering: 2,766 flights in financial year 2007-8. Every day of the year (including Christmas) 7 DfT nutkins are hoping on planes to fly somewhere within mainland UK. But it gets worse: the DVLA took 1,832 flights - despite basically being charged with sorting out driver's licenses. The remaining agencies have no idea how often they flew, because they don't even bother to keep track. Setting a great example there guys. Trebles all round.

Disclaimer: Plane Stupid has nothing against newts - in fact we like them so much that we'd rather people didn't build motorways through their homes. Or build motorways at all...

Government tells government to stop building runways

Stop sign 2

The Sustainable Development Commission, the government’s green watchdog, has decided that destroying the planet may be harmful to the environment. God alone knows how this bunch of dangerous subversives managed to get through the quango filter. Even more amazingly, despite the SDC being a creation of the Blair government, not a single one of its members used to be the chief executive of British Airways.

They've told the government to stop it's mad schemes for airport expansion, and to rethink the whole dammed aviation thingie. Well really - this total lack of joined-up-government is likely to be a severe embarrassment to Gordon Brown, although it is right at the back of the queue. The PM has allegedly penciled in a deep blush and guttural stutter from now through to late November, 2009.

Rising oil pushes carriers into the red

Rusty plane

Despite my last post on peak oil (and why we shouldn't rely on it) rising oil prices do impact transport and aviation growth. With oil currently hovering around the $128 / barrel mark, and widely predicted to hit $150 or even $200 / barrel by the end of the year, airlines are having to up their prices to avoid bankruptcy.

With no tax on aviation fuel the industry has no buffer zone: every dollar hike is another dollar that needs to be squeezed out of ever tighter margins. This weekend Richard Branson joined the doom-and-gloomers, predicting $200 / barrel oil in the very near future. Meanwhile BA is planning to ground planes because of rising fuel costs. The American market is widely tipped to implode if prices keep rising, and the British outlook is not so rosy either.

Meanwhile the government wants to expand airports all over the place, because demand for flights will keep going up - even if there's no airlines left to supply them. They claim that demand is inelastic - i.e. that it will remain constant no matter how hard it is stretched by rising prices. A Parliamentary Question last week showed the cause of their market-defying confidence: the government's modellers are working on the assumption that by 2010, oil will have rised to... $65 dollars a barrel. By 2020, the government is assuming that oil will have reached the staggering price of $75 / barrel. No wonder they think people will keep flying regardless...

Transit passengers behind third runway demand

Transit passengers

Last week the Sunday Times carried an editorial by the former head of British Airways, Bob Ayling, in which he called the third runway a "costly mistake". He argued that the government's attempts to impose a 'hub-and-spoke' model onto the UK's airports was outmoded thinking, based on a disproven theory of air traffic control which almost bankrupted the American airlines which first tried it.

This week the Times has revealed just how damaging the hub-and-spoke model really is. Not only does it force people to fly further than they need to by routing them all through Heathrow instead of flying direct, but the number of international transfer passengers is rising so fast that they will take up most of the new capacity from the third runway by the time it opens in 2020 - and all of it by 2030!

MOLE HUNT: More Austin Powers than James Bond

Mole hunt - Toby close-up

Since late summer 2007, an employee of a corporate espionage agency has been trying to infiltrate Plane Stupid. Toby Kendall, who works for C2i International, a "special risk management" firm, thought he was undercover in our London group, gathering information on what we're up to. Instead we've been feeding the 'revenge movie' obssesed mole false information, which he's been reporting to the aviation industry for months.

After last year's Camp for Climate Action new activists began turning up to London Plane Stupid meetings. Most were perfectly normal people angry at the expansion of Heathrow airport. But one newbie didn't fit in with the rest - Ken Tobias, an Oxford graduate who claimed to have just got back from China. Something about him just wasn't right.

Check out our mole hunt gallery for more photos.

Exposed: government flying

Necessary journey

During World War II, when fuel was scarce, the govenment made a point of asking people to think twice before travelling. Now that everyone has woken up to climate change, how is the government reacting? Why, by flying as much as possible, of course!

Last year government departments flew a total of 300 million miles. While some of these trips were no doubt essential - it's no surprise that the Foreign Office is number one on the list - does every department need to be abusing their air miles? Why, for instance, did the Department for Work and Pensions fly 9 million miles? Is there really that much benefit fraud in Australia?