Expansion Amidst the Chaos of COVID

Whilst Covid-19 continues to toy with all our lives, in particular with the aviation sector, on the 7th October 2020 we’ve seen the launch of the 36-day Consultation Period on London Luton Airport Operations Ltd.’s (LLAOL) planning applications 19/01006/EIASCR and 20/00826/EIASCR. These are to increase the passenger cap from 18 million passengers per annum, to 19 million. They will not require any major works to the terminal building but will involve an increase in flights and the construction of new aircraft parking stands within the airfield site.     

http://www.luton19mppa.info/?fbclid=IwAR3QNCXRlSwQhO9Ofin4-lkUbKynhg1_EuAJC-MUmfMGis-DsmSflR09xV4

In 2012 when permission was given for expansion works at the airport known as Project Curium, a condition was laid down that passengers could not exceed 18 million(15/00950VARCON). However, the LLAL expansion plans for 32 million state that 22.5 million could be accommodated with “tweaks” to the current building. So is this application the first that is planned to reach that 22.5 million over the coming years, bearing in mind that incremental yearly increases would be adjudicated on by the airport owner, Luton Borough Council (LBC), and would therefore be nigh on guaranteed as both would reap the possible financial rewards?

 It is also accompanied by another application to break the noise footprint condition in the original application. That condition needs to be broken to accommodate the current passenger throughput.  The flights which have triggered the current self-imposed night flying restrictions and the breach of that condition were day time flights, but congestion at the airport and within the air traffic system meant they ran late and tormented those affected by their noise throughout the night.  The new flights will of course avoid the same, or so we are told.  We would suggest the airport operator sorts out its current situation on noise and night flights, before adding yet more to the mix?

Any recipient of a planning permission knows they have to abide by all conditions set, as it could lead to the granting authority heavily fining and/or destroying what has been built for a breach; but there is a big difference in unwittingly breaching a condition and knowingly doing it.

The condition mentioned above was not only knowingly broken; it was aided and abetted by LBC who initiated a cash incentive payment for airline growth in 2014, which directly fuelled and encouraged it.

Fortunately for the residents of Luton, that incentive scheme came to an end in March this year.

So, let us look at the current background to this passenger increase, and how in our opinion it is unnecessary:-

With Covid encamped in Europe, flights have stopped completely on many routes; frequencies have been cut on others; and those that do go are around 20-70% full.

Two days after the consultation launched, IATA (the world airlines organisation) reported airlines would still be burning up their cash assets until 2022.

https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/airline-industry-will-continue-to-burn-through-cash-until-2022

Airlines will be hunting down the very best deals possible, as the report mentions.  Winter is a season of discounting to fill capacity. If airports won’t give the discounts, the capacity will be cut, and more jobs locally at those airlines, airports and supply chains will suffer.

Is it ethically and morally correct to even talk about increasing the earnings potential for the airport operator and owner, whilst their staff face pay cuts/hours cuts and redundancy?  The Consultation mentions this capacity will be needed by 2024, so will LLAOL and their partners retain staff for that duration and restore pay levels? We think not.

So, is there a clear and present demand for this expansion? No, there certainly isn’t.

 For the first five months of financial year 2020/21, compared to 2019/20, passenger throughput is at 16% – 1.4 million.  Take that figure through the traditionally less travelled winter months, and you have a throughput for 2020/21 of 2.8 million passengers.  Even the most optimistic person on the planet couldn’t see why they need another million passengers in what is a cramped building, when they have space for 15.2 million to fill first?

This Consultation asks the public for its input and says those replies will be thoroughly considered in a transparent process.  

2020 has been a year of many unwanted firsts, and if any of our replies or concerns are submitted and listened to, that would still make the top five, as all previous consultations, be it by LLAOL or LBC/LLAL, have all been filed away in the recycling bin and ignored, as nothing can stop the expansion juggernaut.

So, whilst we would ask those affected by the current operations to complete the consultation form, they as well as we will be shocked if – as with the LBC/LLAL consultation – our simple NO EXPANSION replies will actually be taken heed of.

Stop Luton Airport Expansion

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