Heathrow to pay charges for first electric aircraft to fly from UK

Heathrow Airport will waive a year’s worth of landing charges for the world’s first electric passenger aircraft in a bid to encourage the low-carbon transition in the aviation sector.

The move will see the first airline that develops the innovative aircraft avoid around £1 million in landing fees – an incentive which Heathrow’s sustainability team believe could spur investment into the research and development of clean aviation technologies.

“Heathrow has long been a leader in sustainable aviation – we championed carbon neutral growth in global aviation, which will come into effect in 2020,” Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye said. “The next frontier is zero-carbon flying, and I hope this prize will help to make it a reality at Heathrow by 2030.”

There are currently more than 100 electric aircraft projects underway across the world, according to Heathrow, with the first electric passenger plane likely to be operational before 2030.

However, these projects are currently faced with the challenges of high upfront costs and low demands for low-carbon aircraft.

The announcement from Heathrow was welcomed by airline bosses and policymakers alike, with Aviation Minister Liz Sugg claiming that it would spur investment ahead of the Government’s upcoming Aviation Strategy, which is due to be published by early 2019.

easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren added that the move proved that Heathrow shared the airline’s ambition for a more sustainable aviation sector. “We support airports who are encouraging airlines to operate the most sustainable aircraft and welcome this initiative from Heathrow Airport,” Lundgren said. “We firmly believe it is [a case of] not if, but when, electric commercial aircraft become a reality.”

The prize will be made available to all airlines, whether they currently operate routes from Heathrow or not.

The move builds on Heathrow’s 2.0 sustainability strategy, which lists more than 200 targets across a range of social, environmental and economic issues. Crucially, the significant growth in flights and infrastructure caused by Heathrow’s expansion will be carbon-neutral under this new strategy, with the airport detailing plans to offset an inevitable increase in emissions through the restoration of peatlands in the UK, alongside other carbon-offsetting schemes it will be researching.

Under the strategy, Heathrow has already increased its environmental charges for aircraft by 7 per cent, as part of a move to incentivise airlines to deploy cleaner and newer aircraft in order to lower emissions and noise pollution. The airport additionally encourages airlines to develop cleaner aircraft and switch to newer models by publicly publishing a table ranking airlines based on air and noise pollution levels every three months