The environmental committee of London's municipal assembly has called on Heathrow Airport to adopt stricter emission and noise reduction targets for the future.
Although the cross-party working group demands wider deployment of quieter and more fuel efficient aircraft, it also sees great potential to cut the environmental impact of ground-based traffic at and around the UK's main hub.
Heathrow's operator is aiming for all aircraft flying to and from the airport to adhere at least to the CAEP4 standard of the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) by 2020.
The London Assembly says, however, that this timeframe should be shortened, given that "over 90%" of flights in 2011 were already made by CAEP4-compliant aircraft. The latest category is CAEP6, which came into force in 2008.
The pollutants of main concern are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter with a diameter of 10 microns. The Greater London area will not comply with the European Union's (EU) NO2 limits even by end of an extended deadline of 1 January 2015. But the assembly says the target could be reached by 2025.
Heathrow is the capital's second worst area in terms of air quality. At 37%, aircraft are the largest contributor of total oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the airport area, followed by off-road mobile machinery, buses and cars.
Reducing emissions from ground vehicles could make a significant contribution in making the airport area more environmentally friendly, says the environmental committee. While Heathrow operated at 99% of its runway capacity in 2011 - this is capped at 480,000 aircraft movements per year - it still grows in passenger terms, which in turn leads to more ground traffic.
The number of passengers per year is to increase from currently around 69 million up to 95 million in 2014 when the terminal redevelopment programme is due to be completed.
While Heathrow aims to raise the ratio of passengers using public transport to 45% by 2015, the environmental committee recommended 60%. Around 61% of passengers today use private cars or taxis while 25% use the underground or rail, and 13% use buses and coaches.
"Kiss and fly" traffic in particular is to be avoided using "robust measures" such as charges to drop-off or pick-up passengers, says the committee.
Other recommendations are incentives for passengers and airport employees to use public transport, upgrading the Piccadilly line, ensuring high capacity on the planned Crossrail train link, connecting Heathrow to the future high-speed rail network, and employing greener airport vehicles with, for example, electric, hybrid, hydrogen or biofuel engines.
The environmental commission recommends that the UK government adopts a more stringent EU standard to determine aircraft noise exposure than used today, and to lower the trigger point at which residents become eligible for assistance with sound insulation. This would mean that an additional 472,500 people would fall within Heathrow's noise contour.
Its footprint is currently measured by averaging aircraft noise over a 16-hour period per day with the trigger point being at 69 decibels (dB). While the UK government wants to lower this to 57dB, the London Assembly recommends a European directive, which uses a different method and is triggered at 55dB.
The EU method records the combined effect of noise during the day, evening and night, but also adds 5dB and 10dB respectively during the evening and night to reflect the greater nuisance at those times.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the 16-hour recording method based on 57dB is outdated. It adds that 50dB create moderate annoyance while 55dB is considered a serious nuisance.
The UK government wants to publish draft national aviation policy framework for public consultation this month, which is to be adopted in March 2013.