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Caithness News Bulletins October 2003

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The impact on the environment of all flights in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland each year is less than the effect of just one day's air traffic between the UK and the USA, according to a new report by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

HIE, the agency responsible for economic and community development in the Highlands and Islands, commissioned the report in response to the UK Department of Transport and HM Treasury consultation, "Aviation and the Environment: Using Economic Instruments".

Tom Matthew, HIE Transport Policy Manager and Tony Jarvis (left), HIE Community, Culture and Transport Team with a copy of the report entitled 'The Environmental Impact of Aviation in the Highlands and Islands', at Inverness airport.

That consultation - which considers the possibility of imposing environmental charges on air travel - will inform the UK government's Aviation White Paper, due to be published by the end of this year.

HIE is calling for a balanced approach to the introduction of environmental charging and argues charges should be based on actual environmental cost, rather than being imposed at a flat rate. They also say any proposed charges should be route-specific and not left to airlines to recover from all passengers as they see fit, as is presently the case with Air Passenger Duty.

Given the lack of viable alternatives - such as high-speed rail links and  fast and frequent ferry crossings - HIE believes there is no case for environmental taxation of flights on routes within the Highlands and Islands or between the region's 10 airports and other Scottish airports.  Further, any consideration of an environmental charge on cross-border services, such as Inverness-London should reflect the alternative surface transport options that are available.

HIE commissioned international environmental consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to carry out the research for the report, "The Environmental Impact of Aviation in the Highlands and Islands", which is published today (Tuesday, October 7).

The main findings of the research were:
* The environmental impacts of all Highlands and Islands flights are an extremely small proportion of the impacts of all flights within the UK. The total climate change impact from passenger air traffic in the region represents just 0.17% of the UK total. Over 80% of the regional impacts relate to cross-border flights between Inverness and Luton, Gatwick and Manchester.

* The total annual climate change cost of passenger air traffic in the Highlands and Islands is 2.5 million, compared to 1.4 billion for the UK as a whole. In other words, it is less than one day's worth of air traffic
between London and the USA.

* On many routes, when flights are compared with the best alternative car and ferry journeys, the climate change impact per aircraft passenger is not substantially greater. On a number of routes within the Highlands and Islands the environmental impact is less than that caused by the equivalent car and ferry journey. For journeys with a long overland leg, such as Glasgow or Edinburgh to Stornoway, it is actually more environmentally friendly for an individual to fly rather than travel by car and ferry.

* For most individual routes within Scotland, the climate change cost per passenger is less than 1. It ranges from just 0.35 for Stornoway to Benbecula to 2.97 for Glasgow to Shetland. The average climate change cost of an internal Scottish flight is just 1.19 per passenger. If air fares were reduced and flights became more fully booked the environmental impact per passenger would  be reduced.

* The impacts of aviation on local air quality in the Highlands and Islands are 'insignificant'. The existing air quality is very good and the number of flights combined with generally small, predominantly turboprop-based aircraft, produces very low emissions. In 2001, all the aircraft movements in the Highlands and Islands generated less than 1% of the nitrogen dioxide generated at Heathrow alone.

* Because all the region's airports are located in sparsely populated  areas, the noise pollution impact is also negligible. For example, at Inverness airport, there are no residents living within the 57-decibel contour normally used to identify the area in which people will be affected by aircraft noise.

According to HIE's Transport Policy Manager, Tom Matthew, the research provides valuable information for the debate on the environmental impact of aviation and vividly illustrates the specific circumstances of the Highlands and Islands.

He  said: "This report has highlighted the distinctive features of  air travel within the Highlands and Islands.

"We have fewer and smaller planes and they fly at low altitudes and generally use turboprop engines, which produce lower emissions than jets.

"The surface transport alternatives to air involve lengthy journeys.  We also have some of the highest air fares in Europe and any additional charges will serve to make the region a less attractive place in which to
live and work.

"These facts may be obvious to local residents and businesses. This regional dimension is, however, not always appreciated by those elsewhere in the UK who view air travel as a "luxury" rather than the integral part of the public transport network that it is within the Highlands and Islands.

"The research also points to the sustainability of the HITRANS proposals for an expanded air services network within Scotland. Increasing the number of planes operating will have no significant environmental impacts while filling existing planes with more passengers will reduce the environmental
impact per passenger".

Environmental Resources Management (ERM) has over 100 offices in 35 countries and provides comprehensive environmental and risk management consulting services.

HITRANS is a voluntary partnership between the local authorities, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Council Development and Industry, working together to pursue improvements to the regionally strategic transport services and infrastructure in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.