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Environmental Capacity at Airports

The development and operation of airports gives rise to a variety of environmental impacts including:

  • disturbance caused to local residents – primarily from aircraft noise.
  • climate change – as a result of carbon emissions.
  • reduced local air quality – from aircraft, cars and apron activities.
  • the use of resources – including energy, products and land.
  • the generation of wastes – emissions to air, solid and liquid wastes.

If not properly managed, these issues have the potential to:

  • result in failure of legislative compliance
  • increase operating costs
  • give rise to operational restrictions
  • result in failure of planning approval for growth
  • create an adverse corporate image

The capacity of an airport is a function of many different factors including the capacity  of its infrastructure (runways,  taxiway and apron development, terminals and landside facilities) and how well that infrastructure is managed.  A number of environmental issues can, however result in operational restrictions and constraints that prevent full use of the facilities provided. Further, across Europe are examples of airports that have failed to gain permission to build additional infrastructure, either as a result of the environmental impact of the development itself or as a result of the increase in traffic which would result from it. Airport developers can in theory invest hundreds of millions of pounds in new infrastructure (e.g. a terminal) but not have the environmental capacity to allow it to be put to full use.

It is possible to estimate the environmental capacity of an airport (measure the environmental sensitivity of an airport) using a variety of modelling techniques which combine environmental impact contouring with GIS mapping and terminal, apron and runway simulation models. Airports need to invest sufficient resources in environmental management and mitigation to ensure future capacity. They need to work with their service partners and where necessary enforce controls to ensure corporate environmental targets are met and that the environmental impact of the airports total operation is kept to a (commercially sustainable) minimum. Airlines wishing to develop hub operations at a particular airport may actually take a proactive approach to encouraging the development of environmental best practice in order to secure their own future.  This requires development of a site wide environmental management system.

Research Studies

Research within CATE is focussed upon examining the environmental issues that currently restrict or limit operations and growth at many airports and those likely to create constraints in the future.

The Concept of Airport Environmental Capacity (2002)

This project, for EUROCONTROL Brussels, has reviewed and developed the concept of environmental capacity for aviation regulators, has documented the views of stakeholders and has provided a check-list based decision aid to help airports improve their environmental capacity management.

Sustaiability Indicators for Airport Intermodal Transport Hubs – a generic strategic design support tool (1999-2002) A proof of concept strategic design support for optimizing airport operational and environmental capacity. EPSRC Research Award No. GR/M60200

Assessment of the Potential of Environmental Issues to Constrain Airports – ENVSIG (2003 – 2004)  A project undertaken for EUROCONTROL to develop a tool to enable airports to identify whether environmental issues are likely to constrain their future growth and development.

Thomas, C.S. with Upham, P. and Raper.D.W. 2001  Environmental capacity of aviation :  theoretical issues and basic research directions.  Journal of Environmental Planning and management .

Thomas C. with Upham, P. (2002) Environmental capacity of airports: an overview of the issues and multi-sector views of research directions. Transport Planning and Technology

Thomas, C. with  Upham, P. Yang, Y., Gillingwater D., Hinde, C.  and Raper, D. (2001) “A strategic decision support tool for indicating environmental and operational factors in airport development scenarios”. Proceeding of the Association for European Transport.

Upham,P., Thomas, C.,  Gillingwater, D. and Raper, D. (2003) “Environmental capacity of airports: operational issues and prospects, Journal of Air Transport Management, Special Edition.

Thomas, C.S. (2005) Environmental Issues and their Impact Upon The Market Value of Airports.  Airport Investor Monthly October 2005.