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The last thing the government should do is throw a lifeline to Flybe The last thing the government should do is throw a lifeline to Flybe
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Instead of propping up ailing aviation companies, we need to invest in sustainable transport, says MEP Molly Scott CatoInstead of propping up ailing aviation companies, we need to invest in sustainable transport, says MEP Molly Scott Cato
As the Australian bushfires continue to rage and aviation emissions soar, ministers are about to demonstrate whether their commitment to tackling the climate emergency is genuine or just hot air. As the Australian bushfires continue to rage and aviation emissions soar, ministers in Britain are about to demonstrate whether their commitment to tackling the climate emergency is genuine or just hot air.
As the airline Flybe faces collapse, ministers are considering reducing or scrapping air passenger duty on domestic flights in the UK. But this would amount to a massive handout to the country’s dirtiest form of transport. Encouraging the expansion of aviation is a dangerous and irresponsible move at a time when there is more and more evidence of the damage that the climate crisis is already causing. As the airline Flybe faces collapse, they are considering reducing or scrapping air passenger duty on domestic flights in the UK. But this would amount to a massive handout to the country’s dirtiest form of transport. Encouraging the expansion of aviation is a dangerous and irresponsible move at a time when there is more and more evidence of the damage that the climate crisis is already causing.
This is also a terrible way to determine policy. The government is making decisions about the whole industry on the basis of one failing airline. It looks suspiciously like ministers are using the failure of Flybe as an excuse to deliver on a dubious manifesto commitment to “improve regional connectivity”. This is also a terrible way to determine policy. The government is making decisions about the whole industry on the basis of one failing airline. It looks suspiciously like ministers are considering using the failure of Flybe as an excuse to deliver on a dubious manifesto commitment to “improve regional connectivity”.
Conveniently enough, the government is claiming its options are limited by EU state aid rules, which mean all domestic flights must be considered together. But that is simply false: routes that are considered socially necessary can be exempt from the rules. Flybe already receives tax relief on its Newquay to Heathrow route, which is classified as a public service obligation (PSO) link. Likewise, for similar reasons, ferries to the Scottish islands also fall outside the state aid rules.Conveniently enough, the government is claiming its options are limited by EU state aid rules, which mean all domestic flights must be considered together. But that is simply false: routes that are considered socially necessary can be exempt from the rules. Flybe already receives tax relief on its Newquay to Heathrow route, which is classified as a public service obligation (PSO) link. Likewise, for similar reasons, ferries to the Scottish islands also fall outside the state aid rules.
The UK is the last place on Earth that should be encouraging people to fly. More Britons travelled abroad in 2018 than any other nationality. Roughly one in 12 of all international travellers in 2018 were British, a staggering 126.2 million UK passengers.The UK is the last place on Earth that should be encouraging people to fly. More Britons travelled abroad in 2018 than any other nationality. Roughly one in 12 of all international travellers in 2018 were British, a staggering 126.2 million UK passengers.
Then there are all the flights we take within the country: 38% of Flybe’s flights are domestic. These are shorts journeys that could easily be substituted with rail trips. Exeter to London now takes just over two hours by train compared to 1 hour 10 minutes by plane. However, a true comparison must take into account the extra time required to travel to and from the airport and to check in. Then there are all the flights we take within the country: 38% of Flybe’s flights are domestic. These are short journeys that could easily be substituted with rail trips. Exeter to London now takes just over two hours by train compared to one hour 10 minutes by plane. However, a true comparison must take into account the extra time required to travel to and from the airport and to check in.
Short-haul flights have a disproportionately large carbon footprint, with an average 65kg per person by plane compared to just over 11kg by train. Yet the aviation industry still receives an annual subsidy through an exemption from tax on aviation fuel and VAT on tickets. So rather than using subsidies to artificially prop up a business that is financially and environmentally unsustainable, the government should transfer those subsidies to rail travel. That would increase and improve regional and local rail networks, and reduce fares. A frequent flyer levy would generate additional revenue to fund rail and other sustainable transport solutions, while encouraging a shift away from flying.Short-haul flights have a disproportionately large carbon footprint, with an average 65kg per person by plane compared to just over 11kg by train. Yet the aviation industry still receives an annual subsidy through an exemption from tax on aviation fuel and VAT on tickets. So rather than using subsidies to artificially prop up a business that is financially and environmentally unsustainable, the government should transfer those subsidies to rail travel. That would increase and improve regional and local rail networks, and reduce fares. A frequent flyer levy would generate additional revenue to fund rail and other sustainable transport solutions, while encouraging a shift away from flying.
We need to follow the lead taken by others in Europe. In Sweden, the number of passengers on domestic flights fell 9% last year, largely as a result of a home-grown “flight shame” movement. Meanwhile, the Greens in Germany have pledged to ban domestic flights in the next 15 years if they enter a coalition government, a not unlikely scenario in the near future.We need to follow the lead taken by others in Europe. In Sweden, the number of passengers on domestic flights fell 9% last year, largely as a result of a home-grown “flight shame” movement. Meanwhile, the Greens in Germany have pledged to ban domestic flights in the next 15 years if they enter a coalition government, a not unlikely scenario in the near future.
Of course the colossal size of the aviation industry in the UK means there are thousands of jobs dependent on it. This helps explain why governments have consistently been reluctant to challenge it. Redundancy is always a painful process, but the reality is that many jobs in aviation and other fossil fuel-based industries simply aren’t sustainable. This is why we urgently need an industrial policy based around the Green New Deal to train and reskill workers so they can transition to the environmentally and socially beneficial jobs of the future. Of course the colossal size of the aviation industry in the UK means there are thousands of jobs dependent on it. This helps to explain why governments have consistently been reluctant to challenge it. Redundancy is always a painful process, but the reality is that many jobs in aviation and other fossil fuel-based industries simply aren’t sustainable. This is why we urgently need an industrial policy based around the Green New Deal to train and reskill workers so they can transition to the environmentally and socially beneficial jobs of the future.
It is also clear that such a transition will generate more and better jobs. In this case, increasing the cost of flights will also provide a boost to domestic jobs in tourism, as millions more people would spend their weekends and short breaks in the UK rather than in far-flung destinations.It is also clear that such a transition will generate more and better jobs. In this case, increasing the cost of flights will also provide a boost to domestic jobs in tourism, as millions more people would spend their weekends and short breaks in the UK rather than in far-flung destinations.
The government shouldn’t be throwing a lifeline to Flybe or encouraging the domestic aviation industry through tax cuts. On the contrary: we need to use all the instruments at our disposal to radically slash the number of domestic flights and invest in a local and regional transport revolution. We must ensure that the cheapest and most convenient transport option is always the sustainable one.The government shouldn’t be throwing a lifeline to Flybe or encouraging the domestic aviation industry through tax cuts. On the contrary: we need to use all the instruments at our disposal to radically slash the number of domestic flights and invest in a local and regional transport revolution. We must ensure that the cheapest and most convenient transport option is always the sustainable one.
• Molly Scott Cato is MEP for the South West of England. She has pledged not to fly at all in 2020 • Molly Scott Cato is Green party MEP for South West England and Gibraltar. She has pledged not to fly at all in 2020