Students interview John Holland-Kaye: their articles

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We have been working with Campus Industries (student marketing company) to promote Heathrow’s recent consultation and the need for young people to get involved.  As well as doing a series of pop-ups at universities during the consultation period, we invited two student ambassadors, Ilona Bushell and Alisa Anwar from Campus Industries to interview John Holland Kaye.  IIona and Alisa then wrote their own articles on the interview. Read them below

A sea change in air travel? Cars, carbon and concrete with the Heathrow boss.
By Ilona Bushell

It is sunny day when we arrive at Terminal 5, suitcase and ticketless and looking for a bus to take us to the Compass Centre rather than on holiday. The Heathrow HQ is ironically difficult to track down, although we eventually find a bus driver who enlightens us before sending us on our journey through the charge-free bus zone.

As we travel away from the built-up infrastructure of the airport terminals and out into Hounslow, I look at my surroundings with interest. In one glimpse I can see an immense car park with hundreds of hire cars and their matching green slogans, whilst at the same time a corner shop selling bread and milk and cigarettes and oyster top-ups. Meanwhile, a row of very normal London terraced houses look out onto wide open concrete spaces and listen to the roar of aircraft lifting into the sky at regular intervals.

Later, talking to the Chief Executive, John Holland-Kaye, about the history of the airport, I learn more of the mis-match of hotels and cargo units and primary schools and ring roads. He describes the shape of Heathrow as haphazard, explaining how fast growth led to functional airport buildings being jumbled in and amongst housing.

“The expansion project is a chance to change some of the things that don’t work quite so well.”

One of these changes is the “Green Loop”, a 20km route around the airport, made up of existing and proposed footpaths and cycleways joining up additional routes. Holland-Kaye tells us this is a palatable way to solve an existing problem with connectivity; the proposed route would go some way towards connecting communities which are physically close to one another, but cut off by the lack of infrastructure. The planned expansion is also set to improve bus and train services into the airport. One of the major environmental concerns for locals is air quality, a problem which stems from the huge numbers of cars passing on the M4 and entering the airport every day.

“Because of some of the fragmentation I’ve described, our connectivity is not as good as it could be. We are investing in those bus services to make them predictable and reliable. We need people to leave their cars at home.”

The Heathrow expansion masterplan was released in June and outlined the plans for the expansion, which involve a third runway being built north of the airport and crossing the M25. The planned development will create 180,000 jobs and improve many aspects of life for locals, making it in many ways a very economically sustainable plan. But this added runway will also add 260,000 flights a year, and there has been strident opposition to the ecological threat of such growth. Most recently, Extinction Rebellion have threatened to shut down the airport with drones, protesting until the government cancels the expansion plans. As a young person who is simultaneously looking for a job and attempting to have a conscience about the future, this is a difficult one for me. Holland-Kaye is keen to agree with these concerns,

“I’m glad that there’s been an increased awareness. The changes we need to make will change every aspect of our lives, and unless we move quickly we won’t be able to get the benefits with connecting the world, with trade, with education, with travel, that we do.”

Heathrow also became the first airport to sign the Paris Pledge for Action following the Paris agreement on Climate Change and has been lobbying the former Prime Minister to agree to ‘net zero’ by 2050. This change, which was voted through by Parliament in June, is likely to change life dramatically over the next thirty years. According to the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK’s carbon target for 2050 was to ensure it was at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline. This has now changed to 100%. From 2008 until June of this year therefore, the target was to reduce our carbon output to 155.6 million tonnes by 2050. Now, for the first time ever, the target is zero.

This does not mean no emissions, but it does mean that for any CO2 we emit, the equivalent in carbon capture technology will have to be in place. While it’s not clear whether international aviation and shipping are included when it comes to ‘net zero’, Holland-Kaye is clear on Heathrow’s aims,

“It’s easy for people to set carbon neutral challenges to make them feel good, but it’s still churning carbon through the air… When we started our plans, carbon neutral was the aim. Now we need to get to net zero.”

Achieving this aim is difficult, and would mean far more trees than can fit in that green loop. Getting a consensus to change, identifying a clear path to decarbonise, and mobilising forces quickly are all challenges Holland-Kaye recognises as part and parcel of his aim. But with all vehicles on site converting to electric, carbon capture technologies being used on poured concrete and in the steel industry, and even the regeneration of peat bogs in the north of England, Heathrow seems set on hitting the target. I wonder aloud whether this expansion, if it will and must go ahead, could put Heathrow at the forefront of sustainable aviation. The CEO smiling, replies that he likes that way of looking at it,

“If we can get Heathrow expansion right, we can get global aviation right. And if we decarbonise aviation, we can decarbonise the entire global economy. There’s quite a prize at stake! It’s difficult, but I think Heathrow can and will be a force for good in making that happen. You have to challenge people as we have been challenged, in order to make them act differently.”

I look past my interlocutor’s head, through the clear wide window and down to the runway, on which an enormous British Airways jumbo jet rumbles along and inexplicably lifts itself off the ground. Not so long ago, the idea of such a machine flying (almost) gracefully through the air would have been inconceivable. How long will it be before these beasts will be running on synthetic fuels or hydrogen cells or biofuels? I wonder. And, as I wrestle with my urge to ignore the rest of the day’s commitments and jump on a plane to discover a new country, I sincerely hope that these futures are not science fiction.

Ilona finished her degree in German Studies at King’s College, London this year and is now starting a masters in biography and non-fiction writing at the UEA.

‘Aviation is not the Enemy. Carbon is the Enemy...’ says Heathrow’s CEO, Mr John Holland-Kaye
By Alisa Anwar

Years of business and management knowledge acquired through his role as Divisional CEO of Taylor Wimpey PLC, a great love of travel, and as he claims ‘a lot of luck’ was the perfect recipe for Mr John Holland-Kaye’s ascendency into the prestigious position as CEO of Heathrow in July 2014.

Joining the company as a Commercial Director in 2009, Mr Holland-Kaye has been a key driver in elevating the airport to an international aviation hub. In particular he was responsible for the outstanding new Terminal 2: The Queen’s Terminal. Now, he puts forward an even more ambitious plan to expand the airport further and introduce a 3rd runway by 2026. 

Yet, what do young people think of the proposals to expand and innovate? Particularly among the student population, there is growing concern regarding the environmental impact of the proposed 3rd runway. This year in particular the UK has seen a dramatic rise in protests and activism regarding climate change. Nearly every university campus has hosted these uprisings, with both students and school children alike taking to the streets to voice their concerns. In particular groups such as Extinction Rebellion have even threatened to disrupt the flow of flights and ‘close Heathrow’ in order to protest against the airport’s alleged negative environmental impact.

Mr Holland-Kaye recognises that students are concerned with the impact that a third runway will have.  Many students have expressed concerns that the addition of 260,000 flights a year will mean that noise and air pollution will increase, wildlife will be disrupted, and green spaces will be built upon.

However the very fact that he acknowledges, rather than dismisses, these negative attributes of expansion puts Heathrow at a considerable advantage. He states that ‘the movement that we have seen, mainly driven by young people, has been a real sea change in raising awareness’ for climate change. The younger generation, including his own children, have brought to the forefront the need to create a sustainable future for generations to follow. For that reason, he is proactively ensuring that the airport expansion happens in a sustainable manner. Heathrow also became the first airport to sign the Paris Pledge for Action following the Paris agreement on Climate Change, they wrote to former PM Theresa May to sign up to net-zero carbon in 2050, and are working with the global aviation industry to do the same.

‘Carbon is all I talk about…aviation is not the enemy, carbon is the enemy…’ he laughed, as we addressed the environmental problems of the aviation industry. This is what puts Heathrow ahead of other airports; they aren’t afraid to talk about issues that others seemingly ignore. He outlines that it is important to tackle carbon at all levels of the expansion project, and the organisation are working towards reaching net-zero. Even if they cannot take carbon out at the source, they will try to capture it and avoid releasing it into the atmosphere.

Yet sustainability, according to Mr Holland-Kaye, is not simply limited to the environment. Heathrow’s expansion project is also aiming to be economically sustainable by providing a range of new jobs and opportunities to the younger generation. Given that Heathrow is one of the biggest single site employers in the country, they have the power to do things that not many companies can. They are forming links with their local community by visiting schools, encouraging their employees to become governors, teaching students STEM skills, and are involved with scout groups and Duke of Edinburgh award schemes. Expansion will provide 10,000 apprenticeships, by the year 2030. Many discuss Heathrow careers as simply being aviation orientated; yet, in reality Mr Holland-Kaye argues that nearly ‘any role you imagine is at your doorstep here.’

Admittedly Heathrow is trying to engage with students and young people through a plethora of innovative formats such as social media, letterbox flyers, and the adoption of simpler language. Yet given that most young people are still either clueless of details of the expansion or still see the expansion as solely unsustainable and environmentally damaging, despite the aforementioned work that the airport is doing to become environmentally sustainable, it is clear that this approach does not seem to be enough. 

YouGov focus groups have found that many students in the area complain that they have not received communications from Heathrow at all, and those that have argue that the information is greatly biased in favour of the expansion. Some go as far as to say that communications are simply ‘airport propaganda.’ Others argue that Heathrow reaching out to them is simply a token gesture and that in reality their concerns as young people in the local area are not actually taken into account. Many also express the need for Heathrow to address the negative impacts of their expansion project, and the work that they are doing to mitigate these effects.

Mr Holland-Kaye outlines that ‘people might not be aware of what we are doing, but we have heard the feedback and (we) are taking action.’ But, one has to ask whether this is the best approach? On the one hand it is reassuring that Heathrow are taking the issues of the younger generation seriously; however, on the other hand, their lack of direct successful communication with this age demographic may be counterproductive. As shown from the YouGov focus groups, most of the younger generation feel extremely disconnected and disheartened by the expansion proposals. Ironically, in reality their concerns are being dealt with effectively; however, if students in the area are not being relayed this information then Heathrow is not going to build a good rapport with the community, as evident by protestors like Extinction Rebellion. It is clear that Heathrow are working towards developing and expanding in a sustainable manner. Therefore, if they want to increase support for their expansion proposals from students they need to better communicate how they are actively addressing their concerns.

‘Change won’t happen by the Government. It will happen by businesses,’ Mr Holland-Kaye states. Heathrow is an airport that has immense global influence. As they expand they are looking into new innovative ways of working without carbon and becoming more economically and environmentally sustainable. Environmental concerns are evidently at the forefront of their expansion projects. If they can do this successfully, then then others will follow. Heathrow will be, he argues, ‘a force for good to make this happen.’

Alisa is studying International Relations at Durham University. 

Sam Matthews