Up in the Air: the outlook for airports in 2018

18 January 2018 (Last Updated January 18th, 2018 12:45)

While China looks to build two new airports, the UK still struggles to agree on where to lay down a single runway. Elsewhere, Dutch airports are set to go green, while airlines contemplate drone-free skies. 2018 is shaping up to be another colourful year for the airport sector.

Up in the Air: the outlook for airports in 2018
There are big plans in the pipeline for airports around the world this year. Credit: Tim Gouw

Will 2018 be the year in which the UK makes a final decision on how it will boost its airport capacity for the long run?

The government is leaning towards a third runway at Heathrow – the first choice of transport secretary Chris Grayling.

The Department for Transport (DfT) claims it is on track to publish final proposals for expansion in west London by the time parliament reaches its summer recess next year.

If approved, Heathrow will then submit a planning application before tiptoeing onto the sticky wicket of consultation with local communities likely to be impacted by the expansion.

Yet, some aren’t convinced obtaining a national policy statement is a foregone conclusion for the DfT. Alistair Watson, partner at law firm Taylor Wessing, believes it is certain to be met with objection in parliament.

The positive ‘yes, and’ attitude from DfT and from government is to be admired, though go beyond that admiration and you see the reality of the complexity of the decisions that have to be taken – and the risk of legal challenge,” he says.

“Even if the DfT are kidding themselves about a 2018 timescale, they are kidding very, very few people in the aviation industry. An adopted and free-from-legal challenge NPS in 2018? That looks and feels out of sight already.”

With such uncertainty, the option of a second runway at Gatwick might not be a dead duck just yet.

Netherlands airports to run on sustainable power from 2018

From the beginning of next year, all business units belonging to the Royal Schiphol Group are to be powered by renewable energy.

The four airports — Schiphol, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Eindhoven Airport and Lelystad Airport – will derive their energy from renewables group Eneco.

The clean energy will supply the four hubs with around 220 gigawatt hours annually for the next 15 years. As of 2020, all of the power will come from new wind farms run by Eneco.

“Airports are a perfect business for renewable energy.”

The move ties in with plans by the Dutch central government for the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. In the mid-short term, authorities have pledged to switch to 16% sustainable energy by 2023.

In a broader context, it raises the question over other airports following suit to implement greener technologies.

According to Stephen Barrett, a consultant at US-based Barrett Energy Resource Group there is a strong business case for hubs to start making the move to renewables.

“While airports may have different management models, they all have a high level of government involvement to ensure public safety,” he says.

“They also make day-to-day decisions as a business to attract airlines, customers and aviation related businesses. Within this context, airports are a perfect business for renewable energy and other green tech opportunities.

Asia’s appetite for expansion

Incheon Airport is looking to put the finishing touches on its new Terminal 2 building, with the view to completion in January 2018.

When finished, the terminal will bring the capacity of the airport – located outside South Korea’s capital Seoul – to 72 million passengers. Its completion coincides with the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, which begin in February.

Across the Yellow Sea, construction continues apace on two new projects in China, as part of the government’s plan to have 20 airports across the mainland by 2020.

Costing in the region of $11.7bn, Beijing Daxing International Airport – the capital’s third airport – is set to become the latest addition to China’s growing list of hubs.

Designed to alleviate an overstretched Beijing Capital International Airport – 90 million passengers passed through its concourses in 2015 – Daxing will initially be able to handle 45 million passengers upon its completion in 2019.

By 2025, that number will reach 100 million, promise Chinese officials, making it the largest airport in the world.

Over in Sichuan province, capital city Chengdu is also set to get itself a new airport.

Estimated to cost $10.5bn, Chengdu Tianfu International Airport – the city’s second after Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport – will come with six runways and will be able to handle 90 million passengers when it opens its doors in 2020.

With China priding itself on the speed at which it is able to bring its infrastructure projects to life – and on time – you can bet construction will be breakneck throughout the coming year.

Planes should be the only flying objects around UK airports

According to fresh figures, there have been 81 reported near-misses of drones colliding with manned aircraft in the UK this year.

While no serious incidents are yet to have taken place, aviation bodies have argued for regulations around drone safety to come into play in order to shore up airports against such risks.

“Aviation bodies have argued for regulations around drone safety.”

Their calls may about to be answered. Earlier this year, the government announced plans to roll out new measures forcing drones weighing more than 250kg to be registered. Under the regulations, users will also need to take a safety awareness test.

Steve Landells, flight safety specialist at British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) welcomes the announcement, but is concerned the government has yet to issue any kind of timeline over when the ruling will be passed into law.

“We need to make sure that the government does actually go through with these promises, and that Balpa representatives have regular meetings with the DfT and the CAA to make sure progress is being made,” he says.

Balpa and its members will be hoping for some resolution in the coming months.