Comment The BBC's renowned Panorama team - famous for breaking the "news" that Wi-Fi really does make your head explode - will tomorrow reveal that UK airport operator BAA has cynically colluded with the government to falsify the environmental impact of expanding Heathrow airport. According to early reports, BAA drove down the projected noise and emissions figures by stating that flights to and from Heathrow would be made by "non-existent" "green superjumbos" which will never be built.
The Times is all over the story this morning, citing not only the Panorama sleuths' work but Freedom of Information Act requests of its own. According to the Thunderer, BAA has included a two-engine, 450-seat "invented" jet in their projections of future flights to and from an expanded Heathrow. The evil airport profiteers apparently say that "the green jumbo will account for more flights out of Heathrow by 2030 than four-engined giants such as the double-decker A380, or the new generation of Boeing 747s".
“Nothing like this is on the drawing board,” said an anonymous "senior industry source", speaking to the Times.
Bang to rights, surely? A greedy BAA and a supine government have combined to ensure that Heathrow expands unnecessarily, which will doom us all as carbon emissions soar unchecked and destroy the ecosphere. Maybe we shouldn't disregard the story because it's a technical issue and it's Panorama. Surely the Beeb protesters can get one right now and again?
Perhaps. There's bound to be at least some truth in the idea that BAA will have made its environmental estimates on the planned Heathrow expansion as nice-looking as possible, even to the point of massaging the figures very firmly indeed. I mean, duh, they would wouldn't they? And BAA certainly is a big monopolistic corporation, largely in control of a key UK infrastructure sector. People should surely suspect its motives, and watch its relationship with the government carefully.
But let's be quite clear about the issues here. Mostly we aren't, actually, talking about carbon emissions. Restricting Heathrow's expansion will hardly choke off global air travel to any noticeable degree. Planes will fly from other hubs, ones glad to have the business in the high-fuel-price, post credit crunch world. And there may not be any two-engine, 450-seat jets being built right now, but the new generation of four-engine ones are a good bit more fuel and carbon-efficient than their predecessors. The new largely-composite Dreamliner should be more efficient still. There are also some two-engine ones already flying that can manage 370 people and go to almost long-haul ranges - for instance the Boeing 777.
And it's no wonder the Times "industry source" chose to remain anonymous, with his "not on the drawing board" comment. Everything you can possibly imagine is on drawing boards in the aerospace industry - a mere 450-seat twinjet is nothing. Just as an example, consider the radical Blended Wing Body concept, now flying as a subscale demonstrator under the auspices of Boeing and NASA. Funnily enough, the concept is for a 450-seater airliner, which would be 20 per cent more fuel and carbon efficient than current designs.
And note the weasel wording of the Times. Naughty BAA has said that newer, "green superjumbo" jets might be flying in greater numbers than the A380 and the latest 747s by 2030 - well, that's plainly rubbish, as the skies are already full of those.