Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Flying is not much fun (Apr08)

I wonder if the chaos at Terminal 5 may actually be doing us all a favour.  For two reasons.  The first is that it reinforces the fact that flying is not much fun.   It means lots of waiting, ghastly airports and lost bags – or fear of losing them.  The second reason is that it seems to be encouraging people to travel with only hand luggage – so less weight on planes.

However, both those impacts pale into insignificance when juxtaposed with the imminent finalisation of plans to build a third runway at Heathrow.  I find it completely baffling that the Government is setting stringent targets to reduce levels of CO2 whilst at the same time letting air travel expansion take off…..

There’s some debate about the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions produced by air travel.  IATA – the International Air Transport Association – which lobbies for the industry, claims it’s only 2% of CO2 emissions or 3% of man-made contributions to climate change.   But others say that if you include the impact of aircraft plumes, as well as CO2 and other pollutants from air travel they’re responsible for between 4-9% of climate change impacts of human activity.

So it’s already significant. But the really worrying thing is that it’s growing – fast.  Greenhouse gas emission from flying around the planet has apparently more than doubled since 1990 putting it on a par with all the human activities in the whole of Africa in terms of its impact.

One of the things that really bugs me is that Heathrow is used as a stop over airport for other destinations.  There can’t be much economic gain from this but by increasing the numbers of planes coming to the airport, it’s adding to the air traffic queues circling above London. I wonder how much fuel is burnt by planes waiting to land.  But building a third runway is not going to solve that – it’s going to just mean more people flying.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely virtuous on this front.  I’m not immune to the lure of cheap flights, particularly when alternative transport looks expensive and time-consuming.   Surely, the government should be raising air fares and using the money to improve rail.  At the very least this might reduce the number of short-haul flights.

Another thing they should do is to

Five or six years ago we went on a family holiday to Sweden.  A one-way ticket for each of us was £11 plus tax.  That’s incredibly cheap, but it’s also misleading.  The return fare was more than £11, the tax was more than the price of the ticket and the flight was too a smaller airport, some distance from where we were going, so travel costs to our destination were higher.


Originally published on Telegraph online 

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