Major UK airport expansion should be halted because disputed data underpinning the country's aviation strategy makes it impossible to weigh up the true impact of aviation, according to a critical new report.

A year-long study by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) and the Institute for Public Policy Research argues that the government should convene a special commission that seeks maximum consensus among stakeholders, incorporating recommended policy options based on updated information into its strategic framework for the development of airport capacity in the UK over the next 30 years.

"Breaking the holding pattern" also advises that proposed expansion at London Heathrow should be put on hold until the strategic framework has been reviewed.

Hugh Raven of the SDC says: "While we expected to find areas of conflict, we were unprepared for the level of fundamental disagreement over the data underpinning the government's whole aviation strategy."

He says the commission would help settle wide differences in competing claims on air travel's economic benefits, its contribution to climate change, noise and air pollution, and the potential for technology to reduce environmental impacts.

The report also warns that decisions about UK aviation policy must not pre-empt UK and international policies addressing aviation's climate impacts, including the European Union's emissions trading scheme and the post-2012 Bali Roadmap.

The UK Department for Transport says it fundamentally disagrees with the report's findings. "It is simply wrong to claim that there is a consensus that the evidence base is flawed and, as the report admits, the most recently published background data on Heathrow was not even discussed.

"We strongly believe that the aviation industry must play its part in meeting its environmental costs which is why the government championed the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS. But given that the government has conducted a widespread debate over the last six years, deferring a decision in favour of a further three year debate as this report suggests is not a serious option."

Source: Flight International