The end of budget air travel: Sticker shock needed to stem emissions-report

Low-cost airlines are spurring demand and harmful emissions. Image: Kurush Pawar via Wikimedia Commons.
Low-cost airlines are spurring demand and harmful emissions. Image: Kurush Pawar via Wikimedia Commons.

Should the age of budget travel come to and end? A ground-breaking new report says airline tickets need to rise 1.4% a year to counteract rising airline emissions — and that a powerful new agency is needed to enforce it. 

The aviation industry insists that it is making only a tiny contribution to global warming, with just 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions coming from its aircraft.

The problem is the speed at which aviation is growing. The industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions will be outweighed by the growth in air traffic, even if the most contentious mitigation measures come into force, according to researchers in the UK.

Cut substantially

More aircraft, more flights and more passengers mean more CO2 emitted − unless air travel is cut substantially, according to the research from the University of Southampton, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“There is little doubt that increasing demand for air travel will continue for the foreseeable future,” says co-author and professor John Preston. “As a result, civil aviation is going to become an increasingly significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

The authors calculate that ticket prices will need to rise each year to make a dent in demand, while also calling for for a new global regulatory body to enforce it all.

“This would translate to a yearly 1.4% increase on ticket prices,” said co-author Matt Grote, which would break the recent trend of lower and lower airfares. “The price of domestic tickets has dropped by 1.3% a year between 1979 and 2012, and international fares have fallen by 0.5% per annum between 1990 and 2012.”

Because any move to suppress demand is likely to be resisted by airlines and by governments, the researchers say that a new global regulator “with teeth” is urgently needed to enforce CO2 emission cuts.

“Some mitigation measures can be left to the aviation sector to resolve,” said Ian Williams, head of the Centre for Environmental Science at the university. “For example, the industry will continue to seek improvements to fuel efficiency as this will reduce costs.

“However, other essential measures, such as securing international agreements, setting action plans, regulations and carbon standards, will require political leadership at a global level.”

The review maintained that the International Civil Aviation Organisation “lacks the legal authority to force compliance, and therefore is heavily reliant on voluntary co-operation and piecemeal agreements.”

Fuel efficiency

Current targets, set at the ICAO assembly in October 2013, include improving global fuel-efficiency by 2% a year up to 2050, while keeping global net CO2 aviation emissions at 2020 levels.

While the global measures have yet to be forged, Boeing, the big US aircraft maker, predicts that the number of aircraft in service will double by 2031 from 2011 levels.

And jet planes are only one part of aviation’s contribution to warming the planet. Airports themselves are huge emitters of greenhouse gases.

Making flying more expensive will have immense economic and social consequences − if it can be achieved.

In May 2013, the website Air Traffic Management reported that the number of seats offered by low-cost carriers in Europe has increased by an average of 14% per year over the last decade. This compares with an average annual rise of only 1% among legacy carriers.

Thanks largely to the low-cost airlines, flying for leisure is now seen as an unquestioned right, while the national economies of many tourist destinations depend, at least in part, on traffic growing, not slackening. − Climate News Network

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