There has been growing concern over the environmental impact of aviation over the last few years. As you would probably expect, Europe has seen much more of a focus than the US, but there certainly has been a growing movement here as well. What does this mean for the industry?
Well, the good news is that everyone’s interests are aligned here in the long run. Those in the environmentalist movement want airlines to pollute less and airlines would love to oblige – that would mean better fuel efficiency and lower costs. In an ideal world where everyone can hold hands and sing Kumbaya, airlines would fly quiet aircraft powered by happiness and rainbows around the world in 10 minutes. That’s not going to happen in the short run, or, um, ever, but we can expect to see significant technological improvements from the aircraft manufacturers. Boeing’s 787, for example, is expected to be 35% more fuel efficient as compared to the 767 it replaces. But these improvements are not going to happen overnight, so what do we do in the short run?
Well, environmentalists want to see curbs on aviation growth. That latest news to stoke the fire is the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change out of the UK. This government sponsored report says that global warming is very real and will have dire consequences if we don’t act quickly. The report singles out aviation as being very concerning, especially short haul flights. According to this summary, possible solutions include a “green tax” or giving specific carbon allowances to individuals that they can use as they please.
Unsurprisingly, nobody in the airline business agrees with this, especially the low cost short haul carriers in Europe. And who better to lead the charge than Ryanair’s shy and reserved leader, Michael O’Leary.
O’Leary’s argument is centered around the statement that aviation is only a small part of global warming (2% of CO2 emissions), especially compared to road traffic (18%) and power generation (26%). Of course, aviation is an easy target, and politicians love to tax it whenever they can, so once again it will be singled out unfairly.
As O’Leary says, “If you listen to them you would think aviation was responsible for melting the polar ice caps, heating up the globe by 2pc a year and for every war, pestilence and SARS epidemic.” Clearly, that’s not the case.
This is something that should alarm every traveler. Yes, it’s important to work with aircraft manufacturers on new technologies to reduce pollution, but penalizing aviation in the short run is not the answer to the world’s problems. Aviation is important for the world’s economic growth, and while I do believe that global warming is a problem, there are far better areas on which to focus that could yield better results than punishing aviation.