Now BAA is helping the War on Terror


Ask almost anyone under 30 what got them into politics and protesting, and I'll bet you a fiver they mention the Iraq war. For me, nothing symbolised the arrogance of Government more than a war no one wanted, which achieved nothing except the slaughter of hundreds of British troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

So BAA's latest PR campaign, destined for page 13 of local newspapers everywhere, makes me go a special kind of angry. We've already endured them press releasing the launch of the Bike to Work scheme as being part of a carbon reduction strategy; now we're subjected to Operation Patchwork Quilt.

OPQ is a hearts and minds spectacular, in which BAA took all their old security guard uniforms (otherwise destined for the rubbish bin) and gave them to Help for Heroes, a charity which seems dedicated to ignoring the single easiest way we could help the troops - getting them out of the war - in favour of blind patriotism and flag waving. Somewhere along the line they were dutifully stiched into quilts to be given to injured soldiers.

Now I'm sure everyone injured in Iraq and Afghanistan (soldiers and civilians alike) is crying out for a quilt, and that BAA's gratutious attempt to appear part of the community has touched their hearts. After all, a new quilt is a perfect replacement for having an arm or a leg blown off by a roadside bomb in a country you can't find on a map where no one wants you to be - especially if you come back to find your once peaceful village is now under the flightpath of a newly expanded airport.

Heathrow and Stansted expansion even less likely as BAA posts record losses

Have you been wondering why BAA has gone quiet on its plans to expand Heathrow and Stansted? Just a few months ago it was keen to stress that both airports would have new runways as soon as the tarmac could be poured, but their latest financial reports shows that BAA is so broke that it is reusing teabags* in the staff canteen.

So far this year BAA has lost over half a billion pounds from the three London airports, with passengers down by 4 million. The biggest decline was at Stansted, which lost 14% of passengers. Domestic flights fell 10% across the airports, with flights to the EU down 8% and international flights down 6%. So what need for the new runway - or for the increase in passenger numbers they twisted arms for last year?

In other BAA news, Gatwick still hasn't sold. BAA wants £1.5 billion, down from £2 billion last year, and has challenged the Competition Commission's demand that it sell Stansted, Gatwick and either Edinburgh or Glasgow within two years. There's some complicated leveraging thing going on with bonds and stuff, but basically it's overvalued the airport and can't sell it.

No cash means no expansion, whatever spin BAA chooses to put on it: bulldozing villages doesn't come cheap, especially when we're digging in to resist. It's perhaps a little too early to start celebrating, but let's face it: we've won**, even if the other side hasn't conceded defeat just yet.

* I am reliabily informed that reusing teabags is a perfectly sensible thing to do. However the image of BAA's staff fighting over a second-hand Tetley while outside the offices hordes of angry residents and anti-expansion campaigners wave placards and chant slogans is so heartening that I thought I'd share it with you.

** Given that I've started doing these little notes, I may as well continue: there plenty of regional airport battles to fight and win, but passengers and profits are down across the sector. Perhaps that iconic symbol of the fight against climate change won't be in Sipson and Harmonsworth, but at Newquay, Doncaster or Birmingham airports instead...

BAA rings death knell for Stansted expansion


If 2008 went down in the history books as the year of airport expansion plans, then 2009 will be long feted as the year those plans crashed back down to earth. Confirming rumours we've been hearing for several month now, BAA have finally conceded defeat and asked the Government to delay the public inquiry into Stansted Airport's expansion. Although BAA won't admit it yet, this means that the inquiry, and proposed expansion, won't happen. Is that champagne corks tins of cider I hear opening?

There are a few reasons for this, all of them good news for environmentalists. Firstly, BAA has no money and can't afford the inquiry. They are inches from having their credit status downgraded, which would leave them unable to secure their enormous debts. In economics speak, this leaves them "proper fucked"; so fucked, in fact, that the Government has initiated plans to nationalise them should the receivers get called in.

Secondly, BAA has been ordered to sell Stansted by the Competition Commission. In a rising market, with more and more people flying each year, BAA would be aggressively seeking permision to expand, and able to charge a premium for having bullied local objectors out of the way. But in this market, with fewer passengers than before, no one will pay more for someone else's expansion plans. The market for airports has been decimated: BAA wanted £2b for Gatwick, but has only been offered £1.3-1.4b.

The other, more political reason, is the general election next year. The last remnants of the Labour party may remain dedicated to expansion, but short of the whole Tory front bench being exposed as peadogrants, the next Government will be more blue than red. The Tories claim they won't allow expansion at Stansted or Heathrow (although they also claimed they weren't fiddling their expenses). Assuming they aren't lying scumbags then even if the inquiry inspector supported expansion it should be overturned by whoever becomes the Minister for Airport Expansion.

So pity BAA, who flew too high and came unstuck. A lesson in hubris for us all. Oh, and to make matters worse, British Airways, BAA's main client and ruler of all things Heathrow, is also going down the pan. Last year they lost £401 million, and there are no signs that they won't lose the same amount (or more) this year. These losses are despite their having fired around 20,000 staff, but outspoken boss Willie Walsh plans to fire some more in a desperate attempt to keep making money. I'm sure that he'll be doing his bit by taking a big cut in bonus... stop laughing, I'm serious.

Stansted expansion challenged in High Court

SSE at the High Court

Further problems for BAA at Stansted; just as it tries to cope with falling profits and passengers. A coalition of airlines, including Ryanair ("idiot bloggers") and easyJet, have written to Ministers seeking a one-year postponement of the second runway inquiry. Now Stop Stansted Expansion has launched a High Court challenge to last summer's decision to increase flights. If they're successful BAA will be right back where it started, but several million pounds worse off.

The thrust of their argument is absurdly simple: the inspector was wrong to ignore the climate change, economic and noise impacts of the airport. During the Air Transport White Paper consultation the Government justified airport expansion because individual plans would get scrutinised at public inquiries. This meant that the Government could ignore the impacts of expansion, but also that the inspector should have taken account of those impacts when he reached his decision. He didn't; ergo the High Court challenge.

The High Court hearing ends today, with a decision expected a few weeks after. It's pretty clear to me that they have a great case, but then judges have a funny tendency of disagreeing with me. Either way there will be huge ramifications for airport campaigners and airport operators: if SSE are successful then inspectors wouldn't be able to defer CO2 discussions to the Government any more. Fingers crossed the judge sees sense, not pound signs.

Is BAA about to give up on Stansted expansion?


Strange things are afoot in Essex. Last week BAA announced that the proposed second runway at Stansted wouldn't be operational until 2017 because of falling demand; this week it's thrown up its hands and agreed not to challenge Stansted's forced sale.

This is a big news. At pre-inquiry meetings BAA's lawyers refused to put the public inquiry on hold until the sale had taken place. They were adamant that the new owners would want a second runway. But there's no evidence that this is the case: passenger numbers are in freefall, and BAA would charge a premium for obtaining planning permission. This is fine in an economic boom, but we're in recession; buyers are after a fire sale, not bells and whistles.

It's not just buyers hit by the credit crunch: Ferrovial is struggling to pay its debts and Basque sepratists ETA have launched a bombing campaign to stop it building a new high-speed rail line. Ferrovial and BAA need to raise money quickly, and if no one will pay extra for permission to expand, why push ahead with a costly and protracted public inquiry? It's too early to predict, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that BAA had issued a sheepish retraction and quietly sidelined its grandiose expansion plans.

Why we shut Stansted Airport

Stansted 5

Monday's action has shown the power of young people determined to turn the climate talk into climate action. We took the decision to disrupt the airport to directly reduce the CO2 impact of Stansted, as a response to the government's consent to its expansion. We did so with heavy hearts, knowing it would disrupt passengers, because we knew the consequences of this action couldn't be worse than the consequences of inaction. If irreversible climate change kicks in, millions of lives will be destroyed.

We are genuinely grateful for the level of support from people who have agreed with us that desperate times call for desperate measures. We have used this action to ask for everyone to 'please, do something'. We hope that all those that have expressed support for today's action will now think about what they are going to do to ensure the survival of our planet and people on it.

Stansted expansion decision is an act of war


The Government has given the go-ahead for the first expansion at Stansted, paving the way for 10% more flights each year. It's a decleration of war: on the climate, local communities and democracy.

Stop Stansted Expansion have fought long and hard against any expansion, citing noise, environmental destruction and climate change. The local council opposed expansion, so the Government overruled them and found in favour of the airline industry. That's not democracy - that's dictatorship.

The inquiry into a second runway will take place next year, but don’t expect a miracle. The Government has shown that it’s prepared to stamp on local democracy and bulldoze through the science if it keeps the aviation industry happy. Fine – all that does is galvanise residents and environmentalists who aren’t so prepared to roll over for a dinosaur industry. If the Government wants a fight, it’s going the right way about it…

Competition Commission condemns BAA for not expanding enough


Isn't free-market capitalism great? Just when BAA was enjoying a few months of rest, after an annus horribilus which saw protestors against Heathrow's expansion sitting on planes, squatting their car park and prancing about on Parliament, along comes the Competition Commission demanding the airport operator sell two London airports ASAP.

Normally I'd be rolling about laughing, except that I made sure to read the fine print. One of the reasons the Commission wants BAA to split up is... it didn't expand airports fast enough. Apparently BAA should have issued a legal challenge against the cap on Gatwick expanding, as well as been more aggressive at Stansted.

Breaking (BAA) up is hard to do


Another day, another blow for BAA. After months of speculation, the Competition Commission has indicated that BAA might have to sell off Gatwick to break up their monopoly over London's airports. While the papers are taking great delight in kicking BAA while it's down, I'm getting worried. Could splitting up the monopoly lead to more airport expansion?

According to the Evening Standard, the Commission condemned "A 'short-term and reactive' approach to airport expansion. Major decisions about infrastructure have 'generally been too late to meet demand'." If that wasn't enough to worry you, try this accusation: "BAA managers have also too easily given commitments not to expand further at an airport and abdicated responsibility to government for strategic planning."

Stansted expansion is declaration of war


The public inquiry into lifting the flight cap is not even finished, and already BAA are eyeing up the true prize - another runway and terminal at Stansted airport. While everyone's eyes are on Heathrow, the Airport's owner unleashed monstrous proposals to double the size of the airport by 2015 and serve 68 million passengers a year by 2030.

Unsurprisingly, Stop Stansted Expansion have taken this rather seriously, calling it "tantamount to a declaration of war on the local community and global environment", and have vowed to use "every means at its disposal" to defeat the plans. But it's not just SSE which is up in arms over the plans. Essex County Council have vowed to fight it "tooth and nail"; the Eastern Regional Green Party dismissed the plans as being "driven by corporate greed and blind ignorance to what they are inflicting on communities and the environment." Even the National Trust is up in arms, because of the impact on nearby Hatfield forest, 10,000 years old and counting.

What does Plane Stupid think of these plans? Do you even need to ask? We'll see you at the barricades!