The Heathrow Row

Tensions are growing at Heathrow where a loose knit bunch of protestors, galvanised by concerns over the planned expansion of the UK’s largest airport, are voicing their fears over aviation’s impact on the environment. According to some reports, the protestors are threatening a day of direct action this weekend that will bring the place to a standstill.

Nevertheless, with criticisms from some quarters over the possibly disproportionate scale of the police presence, a BAA spokesman this week attempted to cool tempers by remarking that the right to peaceful protest is fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the right for people to fly off on a well-earned holiday.

Conciliatory words, on the surface, but whatever one’s views on the current protest, isn’t it a bit strong to talk of the ‘right’ to fly?

Many of us like to fly, and many of us take advantage of low ticket prices and pile off somewhere hot and sunny a couple of times a year, but it’s hardly up there with the right to life, liberty, security and while we’re at it, the right to peaceful protest.

The point is, that despite the increasingly vitriolic arguments that we will hear this week coming from both sides of the fence, the aviation industry, if it continues to grow at current and projected rates may well prove to be completely unsustainable. Indeed, it’s entirely plausible that our ancestors will react with disbelief to the notion that we once thought nothing of paying peanuts to hop on a plane two or three times a year.

But is doesn’t have to be like this. While mounting global insecurity, concerns over the environment, fuel crises and rising ticket prices will probably all eventually play a role in reducing passenger numbers, engineers, as ever, have a big contribution to make through the development of technologies, systems and designs that could ultimately lessen aviation’s impact on the environment.

Plus, with business travel accounting for roughly a quarter of the world’s plane journeys, the biggest dent could perhaps be made by the development of technology that makes virtual meetings as realistic and fulfilling as face to face encounters.

In the meantime, if you’re off on holiday this weekend and you’re flying from Heathrow, good luck.

Jon Excell, Features Editor