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BAA 'invented green superjumbo' to OK Heathrow plans

Noise nimbyism doesn't equal green, people

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Except they aren't, and they may never be. There are fewer than 30 orders for the new 747-8 airliner, and none will fly before 2010. Airbus's production difficulties with the A380 are well known, and the jet may never capture a big market share - many remain unconvinced about its business case. It doesn't seem unreasonable to say that cheaper, more flexible twinjets as yet unbuilt could be flying from Heathrow in greater numbers than these two specific four-jet monsters, twenty-two years from now.

Furthermore, current aircraft designs aren't yet making use of the new fuel-efficient engines now under development, either. Last week's Farnborough Air Show saw the Geared Turbofan make its debut appearance. GTFs use a gearbox rather than a fixed shaft to link their compressors and turbines, allowing better fuel efficiency - perhaps as much as 12 per cent.

There is also serious development effort going into potentially even more efficient "open rotor" designs. Open rotor engines and new aircraft offer a serious promise that global aviation could expand along the lines of the planned Heathrow expansion and yet not emit any more carbon than now - indeed, emit less. And anyway, by most estimates aviation accounts for less than five per cent of global carbon emissions. It would make a lot more sense to pick on other industries first.

So we aren't really talking about carbon and global climate catastrophe here. If that were the only issue, the only opposition to the Heathrow expansion would be from hardcore Greens, who are opposed to most forms of economic activity when you get down to it, and hence don't command much support.

What we are actually talking about here is noise. Big jets which can lift a lot of people make a lot of noise, and have tighter limits on how many can be flown at a given airport within a given time - that's why the Heathrow debate is centring around them. Noise is the reason that BAA has an actual political fight on its hands, as the vocal property owners of wealthy, economically successful southwest London often feel they have quite enough racket already.

They may very well have a point. But it's at best sloppy thinking to equate noise nimbyism with being "green". Perhaps, if we consider the pain worthwhile for the gain, all of us should come together to choke off UK aviation so as to do our bit towards saving the planet. It isn't at all clear that the rest of us, who don't live near Heathrow, should submit to having brakes put on our national economy just so that local residents can have untroubled barbecues and weekend lie-ins. That benefit is purely for them - but we would all share the costs.

Indeed, if we really care about saving the planet, the answer may be more noise for residents near Heathrow, not less. One reason the new, greener, more fuel-efficient open rotor engines haven't flown so far is that they will probably be a good bit noisier than ordinary ones. Maybe the Heathrow locals - if they are truly green and not just selfish nimbys - should be offering to put up with more noise if it means less fuel burn.

They won't, of course, and it's doubtful if many of us would. But we who don't live near Heathrow probably shouldn't go along with the local noise nimbys' wishes on the grounds that it would be "green" to do so. It wouldn't. Indeed, support for nimbys could actually kill off many kinds of promising green technology, as even Greenpeace would acknowledge.

Quite apart from all that, it would certainly seem likely that Panorama's one-sided, fearmongering Wi-Fi debacle wasn't a one-off. ®

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