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The Future of Air Transport - White Paper

Executive Summary

This White Paper sets out a strategic framework for the development of airport capacity in the United Kingdom over the next 30 years, against the background of wider developments in air transport.

It does not itself authorise or preclude any particular development, but sets out a policy framework against which the relevant public bodies, airport operators and airlines can plan ahead, and which will guide decisions on future planning applications. It sets out the conclusions of the Government, and of the devolved administrations where appropriate, on the case for future expansion at airports across the country. In doing so it takes account of views expressed in an extensive consultation exercise, in the course of which around 500,000 responses were received.

The Government recognises the benefits that the expansion in air travel has brought to people's lives and to the economy of this country. Its increased affordability has opened up the possibilities of foreign travel for many people, and it provides the rapid access that is vital to many modern businesses. But we have to balance those benefits against the environmental impacts of air travel, in particular the growing contribution of aircraft emissions to climate change and the significant impact that airports can have on those living nearby.

Air travel has increased five-fold over the past 30 years, and demand is projected to be between two and three times current levels by 2030. Some of our major airports are already close to capacity, so failure to allow for increased capacity could have serious economic consequences, both at national and at regional level. That must be balanced by the need to have regard to the environmental consequences of air travel. The Government believes that simply building more and more capacity to meet demand is not a sustainable way forward. Instead, a balanced approach is required which:

  • recognises the importance of air travel to our national and regional economic prosperity, and that not providing additional capacity where it is needed would significantly damage the economy and national prosperity;
  • reflects people's desire to travel further and more often by air, and to take advantage of the affordability of air travel and the opportunities this brings;
  • seeks to reduce and minimise the impacts of airports on those who live nearby, and on the natural environment;
  • ensures that, over time, aviation pays the external costs its activities impose on society at large - in other words, that the price of air travel reflects its environmental and social impacts;
  • minimises the need for airport development in new locations by making best use of existing capacity where possible;
  • respects the rights and interests of those affected by airport development;
  • provides greater certainty for all concerned in the planning of future airport capacity, but at the same time is sufficiently flexible to recognise and adapt to the uncertainties inherent in long-term planning.

As part of this approach, the Government believes more needs to be done to reduce and mitigate the impacts of air transport and airport development. At the global level, the Government will play a major role in pressing for new solutions and stronger action by international bodies. And the White Paper sets out proposals to bring aviation within the European Union emissions trading scheme, to help limit greenhouse gas emissions.

To tackle local impacts around airports, the White Paper prescribes a range of measures to be applied nationally and locally. These include new legislation and economic instruments as well as improved technology and stringent planning conditions attached to airport development. The Government's under-pinning objectives are to limit and, where possible, reduce noise impacts over time, to ensure air quality and other environmental standards are met, and to minimise other local environmental impacts. Where noise impacts cannot practically be limited, the White Paper sets out new measures which it expects airport operators to take to help those affected, by offering to insulate or, in more severe cases, purchase properties.

Looking at other broader issues, the White Paper sets out the Government's approach to the crucial areas of aviation safety and security, as well as proposals for further action to promote consumer interests. It emphasises the importance of aviation for the tourism industry, and of air freight for business in general.

Airport growth needs to reflect the Government's wider objectives for sustainable communities and helping to improve the economic performance of the English regions. Airports are particularly important for the development of regional and local economies, and proposals for their development need to be incorporated within the relevant spatial and economic development strategies. The Government wishes to encourage the growth of regional airports in order to support regional economic development, provide passengers with greater choice, and reduce pressures on more over-crowded airports in the South East. Proposals to establish Centres of Excellence for aircraft maintenance and aviation-related business clusters at or around regional airports could also contribute to these aims.

The Government recognises too that for many areas of the UK the availability of air services to London is crucial to their economic prosperity. Working within EU legislation, the Government will if necessary intervene to protect slots at the London airports through Public Service Obligations, subject to certain criteria being met. The Government will also work to secure improvements to the existing legislation. In addition, the Government considers that the establishment of Route Development Funds in Wales and some English regions - along the lines of those already operating in Scotland and Northern Ireland - could help to establish valuable new services.

Airports are an important part of our national transport infrastructure, and their development needs to be planned within that context. Current and future enhancements to the long-distance rail network could help to meet some future demand for travel on certain routes. Ensuring easy and reliable access to airports, which minimises environmental, congestion and other local impacts, is a key factor in considering any proposal for new airport capacity. The Government expects airport operators to develop appropriate access plans, and to contribute to the costs of the additional infrastructure or services needed.

The White Paper sets out the Government's conclusions on the future development of airport capacity across the UK region-by-region and case-by-case. Where appropriate these conclusions were reached in conjunction with the relevant devolved administrations. The main conclusions are summarised below. In all cases where development is envisaged, full environmental assessment will be required when specific proposals are brought forward.


  • Land should be safeguarded for terminal development and an additional runway at Edinburgh Airport.
  • Substantial terminal development at Glasgow Airport is supported, and should be safeguarded.
  • Measures should be considered to ensure that the possibility of providing an additional runway at Glasgow Airport during the period covered by the White Paper is safeguarded.
  • The development of a new Central Scotland airport is not supported.
  • Terminal and other facilities should be developed to support growth at Glasgow Prestwick, Aberdeen, and Dundee.
  • There may also be a need for runway extensions at Aberdeen and Inverness.
  • There will be a need for enhancements at some of the smaller airports in the Highlands and Islands.


  • Cardiff should remain the main airport serving South Wales, and the concept of a new airport in South East Wales is not supported.
  • Further terminal development is needed at Cardiff Airport.
  • There is potential for new intra-Wales services and interest in developing a route development fund to support new services.
  • Access to Cardiff Airport, and to airports in England, needs to be improved.

Northern Ireland

  • The Northern Ireland authorities should review the form of the planning agreement at Belfast City Airport, if so requested.
  • Development of increased capacity at Belfast International Airport within its existing boundary is supported.
  • Proposals for the future development of City of Derry Airport should be given early consideration in conjunction with the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

The North of England

  • Significant growth at many airports in the North of England is anticipated and supported.
  • Additional terminal capacity should be provided at Manchester Airport, but should be accompanied by measures to minimise the number of people affected by noise and a strategy for enhancing access to the airport.
  • Development of increased capacity at Liverpool John Lennon Airport within its existing boundary is supported, to be accompanied by improved access. There may also be a case for extending the runway provided this does not encroach on environmentally sensitive sites.
  • Any proposals to develop Blackpool and Carlisle Airports should be decided locally.
  • Plans to expand terminal facilities and extend the runway at Newcastle Airport are supported.
  • There is scope for extending both terminal facilities and runway length at Teesside Airport.
  • Additional terminal capacity and a runway extension at Leeds Bradford Airport are supported, but should be accompanied by measures to minimise and mitigate noise impacts and improve access.

The Midlands

  • There is a need for additional runway capacity in the Midlands.
  • The option of a new airport between Coventry and Rugby is not supported.
  • Birmingham Airport is the preferred location for an additional runway. The variant put forward by the operator is supported, subject to stringent measures to limit noise impacts and improved access.
  • The expansion of passenger and freight operation at East Midlands Airport is supported, subject to stringent controls on noise impacts. The case for a new runway is not currently supported, but will be kept under review.
  • Any proposals to develop Coventry Airport, Wolverhampton Business Airport or for civil use of RAF Cosford should be decided locally.

South West England

  • There is potential for beneficial growth at airports in the South West.
  • The expansion of Bristol Airport, including a runway extension and new terminal, is supported, subject to certain conditions.
  • The option of a new airport north of Bristol is not supported.
  • Additional terminal capacity within the airport boundary at Bournemouth Airport is supported, subject to action to minimise impacts on environmentally sensitive sites and improved access.
  • Any proposals to develop Exeter, Plymouth and Newquay Airports should be decided locally.
  • Action to support new services and to protect existing routes, including to the Isles of Scilly, may need to be considered.

South East England

  • There is an urgent need for additional runway capacity in the South East.
  • There is no strong case for the development of a second international hub airport alongside Heathrow.
  • The first priority is to make best use of the existing runways, including the remaining capacity at Stansted and Luton.
  • Provision should be made for two new runways in the South East by 2030.
  • The first new runway should be at Stansted, to be delivered as soon as possible (around 2011 or 2012).
  • The further development of Heathrow is supported, including a further new runway and additional terminal capacity to be delivered as soon as possible (within the 2015-2020 period) after the new runway at Stansted, but only if stringent environmental limits can be met. An urgent programme of work and consultation will be started to examine this issue further and to consider how best use can be made of the existing airport.
  • The Government will not seek to overturn the 1979 planning agreement preventing construction of a second runway at Gatwick before 2019.
  • In case the conditions attached to the construction of a third Heathrow runway cannot be met, and since there is a strong case on its own merits for a new wide-spaced runway at Gatwick after 2019, land should be safeguarded for this.
  • The option to develop two or three additional runways at Stansted is not supported.
  • The option for two new runways at Gatwick is not supported.
  • The development of a second runway at Luton is not supported.
  • The option to develop a new airport at Cliffe is not supported.
  • The development of Alconbury for passenger or freight services is not supported, but the potential for relocation there of aircraft maintenance operations from Cambridge is recognised.
  • There is scope for other existing South East airports, including London City, Norwich, Southampton and some smaller airports, to help meet local demand, and their further development is supported in principle, subject to relevant environmental considerations.
  • No other proposals put forward during the consultation for new airports at alternative locations are supported.


The policies set out in this White Paper will support economic prosperity throughout the United Kingdom, will enable ordinary people to make flights at reasonable costs, and will manage and mitigate the environmental impacts of aviation, in particular noise, air quality and the contribution to climate change.

Next steps

The Government invites airport operators to bring forward plans for increased airport capacity in the light of the policies and conclusions set out in this White Paper.

In doing so they are asked to produce new or revised airport master plans as quickly as possible. These should include details of the necessary environmental controls and mitigation plans, proposals for improved surface access, and, where appropriate, measures to address blight.

The appropriate planning and transport bodies will need to take these into account, along with the policies set out in this White Paper, in their guidance, strategies and decisions, together with the need to protect any land required for future airport expansion and to provide the necessary airspace.

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