Ministers are planning measures that could increase the number of aircraft flying in and out of airports by encouraging airlines to buy quieter jets.
The government’s aviation policy framework, published on Friday, said it would develop proposals for “noise envelopes” – arrangements under which airlines could increase the number of aircraft flying into an airport, as long as they are modern jets and quieter than their predecessors.
Ministers’ acceptance in the report of the need for aviation growth was welcomed by the industry, but environmental campaigners criticised the government for deferring a decision on whether to include airlines in targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Last year, ministers set up a commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies, the former head of the CBI employers’ body and the Financial Services Authority, to consider the case for building new runways in southeast England because London’s Heathrow airport is operating at near to its full capacity.
Heathrow is Europe’s noisiest airport, with regulators deeming that 725,000 living under its flightpaths are affected by noise from aircraft – and this has held back expansion.
However, the Davies commission is planning to consider the case for additional runways at Heathrow as well as proposals for a hub airport in the Thames estuary that have been championed by Boris Johnson, London’s mayor.
The Department for Transport is to ask the Civil Aviation Authority to develop the concept of noise envelopes this year, so that these arrangements could be put in place alongside any new runways in the southeast.
“The aim is to allow growth in [aircraft] movements [at an airport] in return for a reduction in overall noise emitted over time as aircraft get quieter,” said the transport department.
The CAA in 2011 floated the idea of allowing airlines to increase the number of aircraft flying into an airport if the noise generated by next generation jets did not exceed the din from a smaller number of older models.
For example, Airbus’ A380 superjumbo, launched in 2007, is markedly quieter than Boeing’s 747, which first entered commercial service in 1970.
The aviation policy framework meanwhile hinted that proposals for a new hub in the Thames estuary – which has protected marshland habitat – could struggle to secure ministerial support.
The report said the government would only advocate a hub that involved a loss of protected habitats or species “if there were no feasible alternatives and the benefits of proposals clearly outweighed those impacts”.
Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: “We are pleased to see a clear recognition by [Patrick McLoughlin, transport secretary] that aviation needs to grow.”
WWF, an environmental group, said the aviation policy framework was a “charter for growth” that overstated the need for new airport capacity.