Aviation is struggling and seeking support, but there are demands for it to give something in return
“The political moment is now” to address the climate risks posed by the aviation industry, analysts, insiders and campaigners say, as governments across the world weigh up bailouts for airlines grounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
Rescue packages need to come with green strings, such as reduced carbon footprints and frequent flyer levies, they warn, or the sector will return to the path that has made it the fastest rising source of climate-wrecking carbon emissions over the past decade.
Reduce flights. Demand is unlikely to recover for at least three years so the simplest way to reduce aviation emissions is to have fewer planes in the air.
Tax aviation fuel. Initially just for domestic flights so they do not have an unfair advantage against low-emission rail services. Air France has been told it cannot have a bailout unless it phases out flights that compete with train journeys of 2hr 30mins or less. This should later be widened to international flights, which are responsible for 90% of airline emissions in Europe..
Introduce a frequent flyer levy. In the UK, 15% of people take 70% of flights. Globally, only 3% of the world’s 7.8bn population flies frequently. Increasing costs for them would make a bigger difference than asking people to end their annual overseas holiday.
Provide transparent data on carbon emissions of flights so customers can avoid less efficient airlines. Few people are currently aware of the data, but the difference can be as much as 80% on the same city-to-city flight depending on the type of aircraft, load factors and routes.
Incorporate the aviation sector into national climate targets. Currently the UK’s Climate Change Act only mentions airlines rather than making them part of the country’s emissions calculations, which Thunberg described last year as “extremely creative accounting”.
Reduce fleet sizes by scrapping old, gas-guzzling planes. This would also reduce the risk that low petrol prices will prompt budget airlines to rent cheap planes and run them almost empty, which would keep them in business but increase emissions per passenger.
Halt airport expansion. Campaigners won an important victory in February when the high court ruled against Heathrow expansion due to the climate risks. But many other airports plan to open new terminals and runways in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
Invest in green fuel and tech. The French government has said Air France must use alternatives to fossil fuels for at least 2% of flights by 2024. Norway is pioneering electric planes and biofuel from waste products. Heathrow says the UK government should also promote cleaner fuel.