Gatwick Airport ordered to drop ‘misleading’ pro-expansion adverts

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Gatwick Airport Ltd to stop using two of its ‘Gatwick Obviously’ campaign adverts.

Two adverts - one of which appeared in magazines, the other on posters - made the claim that: “320,000 additional people will be affected by noise from a new runway at Heathrow. Compared to 18,000 at Gatwick.”

Five complaints were made to the ASA, all stating that this claim was misleading.

Two of them said the adverts did not cite the source of the data, making it impossible to verify the figures.

Two said that they failed to mention that any new Gatwick flight paths would pass over rural areas, where the impact of the noise would be much greater.

Responding to the first two points, Gatwick Airport Ltd said the figures had come from the Airports Commission’s own analysis.

The forecasts dealt with the number of extra people at both airports who would be affected by noise by the year 2050 if one airport expanded, as opposed to how many would be affected if neither did.

Gatwick said this was the fairest way to assess the alternatives, since it compared two possible future situations, rather than comparing the future with the present.

There was an assumption that future technology would make planes quieter, therefore an airport that did not expand would be causing less noise pollution than it had in the past. The figures also assumed that ‘carbon capping’ would be a factor, and that aircraft noise policy would continue to focus on the number of people affected, rather than on how serious the effect was.

However, in its ruling the ASA said many readers would interpret ‘additional’ to mean the number of people newly affected by expansion, as well as those currently affected.

“Therefore,” it said, “we considered that consumers would believe that there was a large disparity between the numbers of individuals who would be impacted by expansion at the two airports – if Heathrow expanded, 320,000 more people, in addition to those already affected, would be impacted by noise, whereas only another 18,000 people would be affected by expansion at Gatwick.

It also said that the figures were based on very specific scenarios.

“Therefore, we were concerned that, in the absence of that information, and in light of all the proposal options and the variance in their related noise estimate figures, the ads did not make the basis of the comparison sufficiently clear,” it said.

“The ads did not make clear that the quoted figures related to the number of people who potentially would be affected in 2050, in comparison with those who potentially would be affected if expansion did not go ahead, plus they did not refer to the number of people who would be “newly removed” as a result of expansion.

“Also the ads did not make clear the specific expansion scenarios and assumptions that the figures related to. We therefore concluded that readers would not adequately understand the basis of the comparative claim and that it was therefore misleading.”

On the second complaint, it said: “We noted that the ads did not include any information regarding the source of the figures or the particular expansion scenarios, at both airports, they related to.

“Therefore, we considered that consumers would not be able to locate and interrogate that information, understand how the figures had been calculated or check that the comparison was accurate. Because of that, we considered that the comparison was not verifiable and concluded that the ads were in breach of the Code.”

The ASA did not uphold the third point. It said a reader would understand that the figures concerned the number of people affected, and would not assume that all of those people had been equally affected.

Following the ASA report, Gatwick Airport Ltd responded: “Gatwick makes no excuses for making the public aware of the huge difference in the number of people who would be impacted by noise if Heathrow were to expand, compared to Gatwick.

“It remains the case that, should Heathrow be expanded, 320,000 people will be affected by noise that are not affected today. For Gatwick, the number is 18,000. These figures are not disputed.

“While we disagree with the ASA’s assessment of how these figures - which are derived from Airports Commission’s analysis and data - were presented, the advert in question will not be used again.”

Sally Pavey, chair of Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions (CAGNE), said: “Gatwick’s expansion propaganda ignored the impact a second runway would have on the residents and areas of Sussex, Kent and Surrey and simply tried to discredit the Heathrow options.

“We are delighted that the complaint has been upheld by the ASA.

“The ASA has obviously seen through the Gatwick spin as did the Airports Commission. It is just the first of the many complaints made by action groups around Gatwick at the mis-truths Gatwick span to mislead the consumer and those in a position of authority.”

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