Flights are ingrained – is this the time when we give up our addiction to theft? | Nicole Badstuber | Opinion


Ppassenger air transport is practically at a standstill. EasyJet has anchored its entire fleet and Ryanair has announced that it will not resume commercial flights until June. British Airways has chosen to suspend 36,000 employees and has closed operations at Gatwick and London City airports until further notice. Overall, passenger flights have decreased by up to 95%. With job losses for airline and airport workers likely to reach hundreds of thousands, the government’s priority is unsurprisingly to guarantee workers’ incomes and keep strategic routes open.

But if the government steps in and seeks to buy a stake in the airlines, this could be a turning point in transportation policy, as the pandemic allows us to switch to a weaker future for air travel. We already have to rethink the way we travel, do business, maintain family ties and maintain friendships in a globalized world without aviation – an absolute necessity, given the urgency of the climate emergency.

Estimates from the International Air Transport Association suggest that only 30 of the more than 700 airlines will survive in the coming months without government intervention. In response to warnings of airport closures and airline bankruptcies, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged government support, but only after all other business options have been exhausted, such as raising funds from existing investors. Virgin Atlantic estimates the sector needs up to £ 7.5 billion in immediate government support. Some airlines are already cutting costs by cutting staff and interrupting commercial services.

It is important to attach conditions to government support rather than writing a blank check to the industry. Any rescue plan should be made subject to the condition that the airlines provide essential transport services, including repatriation and cargo. This could mean acting as a operator of last resort – similar to directly operated railways, such as the LNER. Sunak made it clear that any deal would be “structured to protect tax interests,” but partially nationalizing a few key airlines would make more sense. With participation in the industry, the government will be able to direct aviation policy directly and reconsider its place in the long-term transportation strategy.

Even in a scenario of high or low fuel economy, aviation sector emissions are expected to double or triple by 2050. In recent years, we have seen an increase in air travel on average between 4% and 5 % per year. By 2050 aviation is expected to account for almost a quarter of global emissions and to be the UK’s most polluting sector. Air transport is also a sector which mainly caters to a richer population. The richest 10% represent 60% of all flights purchased. And it should be remembered that aviation emissions are not attributed to any country’s count – a blind spot in international commitments on climate change. Public surveillance of the industry makes all the more sense as airlines try to “dodge” their climate obligations in light of the current crisis.

With a stake in airlines, the government could directly oversee a policy to reduce air travel, which would be part of a broader low-carbon transportation strategy. Applying pricing tools such as a penalty for frequent travelers, a carbon-based tax or an airport surcharge would discourage air travel. At the same time, the government should invest in alternatives such as rail and bus services – including sleeper trains and coaches for long distance travel as well as telecommunications infrastructure to allow widespread work away from the office. The personal cost for airline and airport staff should not be rejected. New investments in more sustainable transportation services and infrastructure will create new jobs, including customer service, logistics and engineering. The government could provide targeted training so that airline and airport personnel can acquire various jobs in the transportation sector.


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