As government revealed its plans to consult on a third runway at Heathrow last week, key aviation industry players gathered at Civils 2007 to urge the government to bring forward greater investment in capacity.
Mott MacDonald director of aviation strategy Laurie Price said boosting runway capacity was critical to cutting aircraft fuel consumption and passenger delays as it would reduce aircraft taxi queues and stacking time before landing at busy airports.
"Flying from England to Scotland used to be 55 minutes. Now it takes and hour and an half," Price told delegates. "This increase is due to (aircraft) queuing time (in the sky) which uses more fuel.
"Fuel is too expensive to not use it efficiently and the lack of new airport infrastructure is adversely affecting the aviation industry's best efforts to reduce its contribution to climate change," he said.
Parsons Brinckerhoff aviation director John Oakshott told delegates that regional airports also had to be boosted to minimise the amount of travel required by passengers en-route to major hubs.
"We should support regional airports rather than put more traffic through major hubs," said Oakshott, adding that the aviation industry should look to use the many deserted airstrips left by the Ministry of Defence.
However, Jason Torrance, campaigns director for Bettertransport, a pressure group for more sustainable transport policies, disagreed.
"It is nonsense that creating extra capacity can ever be thought of as a way to reduce emissions," he said. "Looking at past expansion of our airports and road networks, it leads to extra use and extra emissions. We need to look at where people travel to and look to improving sustainable transport options to get them there."
Airport operator BAA this week said it intended to submit a planning application for a third runway at Heathrow next year. This will further its goals to make air travel more environmentally friendly, said the airport operator.
It already has planning permission to replace Terminals 1 and 2 with a new Heathrow East terminal and this week claimed it would "set a new standard in environmentally sensitive airport buildings".
The design, it said, would cut carbon emissions by around 40% compared with the buildings being replaced.