General News

Below are links to stories of general interest in relation to aviation and airports.

 

Major Italian oil company fined €5 million for adverts greenwashing diesel made from palm oil

Italian oil giant Eni has been fined €5 million over its greenwashing of palm-oil based diesel as ‘green’.  It ran a major marketing campaign to con consumers into mistakenly believing its ‘Eni Diesel+’ had a positive impact on the environment. T&E and an Italian environmental organisation had complained about the adverts.  The ruling and fine deliver a blow to attempts by fossil fuel companies to portray biofuels to politicians as a way to decarbonise transport. In practice, diesel made from any sort of food crop causes deforestation due to indirect land use change (ILUC) impacts. Use of palm oil drives destruction of rainforests and wildlife, and EC data shows biodiesel from palm oil is 3 times worse for the climate than regular diesel when ILUC is accounted for. In March 2019 the EU ruled that the use of palm oil in diesel will be gradually reduced from 2023 and should reach zero in 2030, with some exemptions. But palm oil producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are pushing hard for palm oil to be used to produce jet fuel, with the pretence that it is lower carbon than conventional fuel.

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Alistair Osborne in the Times, on how Virgin/ Branson have made fools of the government over Flybe bailout

Alistair Osborne, in the Times, writes about Flybe and the con that has been perpetrated, to get it given government finance. Flybe is 30% owned by Delta and Virgin Atlantic, with 30% owned by Stobart and 40% by New York hedge fund Cyrus Capital. Last February, the trio bought Flybe’s assets for just £2.8 million. Flybe has the contract to operate 4 daily flights from London to Newquay, partly paid for by Public Service Obligation (PSO) by government and Cornwall Council.  This is paid in the belief that the flights are "essential" for "connectivity" but are not commercially viable. (Most passengers in fact are on leisure trips). Those Heathrow slots are very valuable to an airline, and could be used for flights that bring in more profit for the owners. A slot pair at Heathrow can fetch $75 million.  Flybe has got the flights moved from Heathrow to Gatwick. Newquay-Gatwick offers far fewer international connections than Heathrow.  The Heathrow slots will be used for other more profitable Flybe flights, feeding Virgin services. "And now Flybe’s owners have made fools of the rest of the nation by convincing ministers they need some sort of taxpayer bailout."

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Scientists appalled at government’s support for high-carbon airline industry, and Matt Hancock ill-informed comments

A letter from a group of leading scientists, in the Independent, criticises the support of this government for the high-carbon emissions airline industry, and the grossly misleading statements made by Matt Hancock (Sec of State for Health) to justify this bailout. On 15 January, he gave his unqualified support for the airline industry on BBC Radio 5 live. He claimed that dealing with the climate emergency does not require any change in our demand for flying, and (mistakenly) thinks electric planes will be a future solution. He said aviation has been decarbonised, which is categorically wrong. Small improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency are far outstripped by the industry's rate of growth. These positions are at odds with the scientific evidence and the need for deep and immediate reductions in the UK’s emissions. Matt Hancock clearly has no grasp of the huge technical challenges in decarbonising aviation. It is of concern that a Secretary of State can be so misinformed. Flying already constitutes 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions and is predicted to rise by 300% by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.

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Sadiq Khan announces green new deal for London if re-elected in May, and says Heathrow 3rd runway would be “catastrophic”

Sadiq Khan has announced that he would introduce a green new deal for London and make the city carbon-neutral by 2030 if re-elected in May this year.  He also outlined the steps that he would take in the future to combat the climate crisis, and air pollution. He said his plans "will help to address the inequality that exists in our city and create the green jobs and industry that can sustain our communities in the future.” Asked about Heathrow expansion, Sadiq Khan said: “A new runway at Heathrow would be catastrophic… I think that a new runway at Heathrow won’t happen for the foreseeable future because of the legal challenges going ahead.”  The election for Mayor will be on 7th May, and is a two-horse race between Sadiq and the Tory candidate, Shaun Bailey.  Other cities such as Copenhagen and Oslo have made similar commitments to become carbon-neutral.

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Delay till May for Shapps to decide whether to allow Manston Development Consent Order (“DCO”)

The decision by the DfT on whether to re-open Manston as an airport again for air cargo has been delayed for four months. It had been expected on 18th January.  The airport has been closed since 2014. RiverOak Strategic Partners, the consortium behind the scheme, had applied for the airport to be considered as a nationally significant infrastructure project. Having had 3 months to digest the Planning Inspectorates' report, the DfT now want more information from RiverOak by 31 January. The Secretary of State (SoS) Grant Shapps has set a new deadline of 18 May 2020 for the decision to be made. The Aviation Strategy is expected before summer recess, with the DfT consultation on climate imminent, so the DfT are giving themselves until May to avoid shooting themselves in the foot on carbon, as they did with Flybe.  RiverOak are trying to argue that Manston could be successful on cargo, as "the air freight market is ripe for an alternative to the overcrowded London airports system". Some people in the area are hoping Manston could provide jobs; others are deeply concerned about the noise from old freighter aircraft during the night, flying over residential areas (the approach path is right over Ramsgate).

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Why the government’s plan to use public money to bail out Flybe is wrong, and the airline is doomed to fail

There are many reasons (ignoring CO2)  why spending public money to bail out Flybe is wrong. In the Times, Alistair Osborne criticises the plan to effectively pay Virgin Atlantic and Delta, that now own Flybe. They are rich companies, well able to fund Flybe, which they only bought a year ago. It is a blatant misuse of taxpayer money to pay companies like Virgin, and billionaire Branson. Flybe has a lot of its own problems, which is why it is in debt and cannot make money. These include that Flybe has too many planes, 68 aircraft still flying.  An airline analyst said Flybe struggles to compete with low fare carriers, like Ryanair and EasyJet, as their cost per seat is higher. They have been a victim of circumstance: rising fuel prices, an economic slowdown brought on by Brexit and a depreciation of the pound against the dollar. Maybe also the increase in "flight shame" and more carbon awareness.  Flybe does not have a hub airport base, which increases costs, and its network is fragmented low frequency routes. The focus on APD is misleading as the reason for its decline.

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Airline offsetting is a distraction from policies that can actually reduce aviation CO2 emissions

Andrew Murphy, aviation expert at T&E, explains why offsetting does not work to remove the carbon flights emit. He gets asked about this a lot. He says:  "It's a reality that people fly more and more regularly ...for some it is unavoidable ...What’s equally unavoidable is the climate impact of those flights ... There is no “green option” for flying ... Offsetting is just paying someone else to reduce your emissions, rather than reduce your own. For example, investing in renewable energy or tree-planting in some other part of the globe. ... Do carbon offsets work? ... Many have called them modern day papal indulgences ... offsetting most certainly will not wipe your carbon slate clean ... they won't work in practice, and they won't work in theory ... [trees planted may not survive, a solar farm might have been built anyway] ... there is the problem of "additionality" ... some offsets are when parties set weak targets for themselves, and sell you any overachievement as an offset. No extra emissions are reduced ... While offsetting by individuals is, at worst, ineffective, Governments implementing offsetting schemes worse (eg. Corsia) - a distraction from effective policies that can actually reduce aviation emissions."  Read the whole blog.

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Flybe saved after ministers agree a government loan + deferral of APD, and review of APD on domestic flights

The immediate future of Flybe was secured on 14th January evening, after ministers agreed a rescue deal with shareholders to keep the loss making regional airline flying.  The package of measures includes a potential loan in the region of £100m and/or a possible short-term deferral of a £106m air passenger duty (APD) bill to the Treasury, to help it sort out its debts. Also a pledge to review APD on domestic flights before the March budget. Flybe’s owners Connect Airways – a consortium led by Virgin Atlantic – were persuaded to commit millions more to cover ongoing losses. The government is still in negotiations to finalise any loan to Flybe.  The deal was condemned by IAG as “a blatant misuse of public funds” and Virgin “wanting the taxpayer to pick up the tab for their mismanagement of the airline”. Moves to cut APD on domestic flights are totally at odds with any serious attempt to cut CO2 emissions from aviation, as most UK domestic trips can be made on (lower CO2) rail routes. Air travel is already subsidised, by paying no VAT or fuel duty. Some routes deemed socially necessary could be subsidised under EU rules – Flybe’s Newquay to London route is already funded from taxpayers.

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Any plans by UK government to remove APD on domestic flights would be unhelpful on CO2 emissions

Responding to the news that Boris Johnson's Tory government is considering dropping all APD on domestic flights (just cutting it for Flybe would not be legal, for competition reasons) groups that understand about the need for cuts in carbon emissions reacted with dismay (to put it politely). Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace, commented: "This is a poorly thought out policy that should be immediately grounded.  The Government cannot claim to be a global leader on tackling the climate emergency one day, then making the most carbon-intensive kind of travel – flying – cheaper the next. Cutting the cost of domestic flights while allowing train fares to rise is the exact opposite of what we need if we’re to cut climate-wrecking emissions from transport. The aviation sector has got away for years with increasing its carbon footprint. The last thing we need is another incentive for them to pollute more.”  Caroline Lucas commented on Twitter: "Addressing #Flybe problems by reducing #APD on all domestic flights is utterly inconsistent with any serious commitment to tackle #ClimateCrisis. Aviation already subsidised - no tax on fuel. Domestic flights need to be reduced, not made cheaper."  Jenny Bates at Friends of the Earth said on Twitter: "APD cut on domestic flights would be "unacceptable & reckless” ⁦we at  @friends_earth ⁩ say-we must cut aviation emissions not encourage them."

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Government considering UK APD cut to save loss-making airline Flybe

Flybe is one of the main airlines that fly domestic routes in the UK - 38% of them. Currently air passengers pay £26 APD on a return domestic flight (and £13 on a return flight to a European airport). Flybe has been struggling for years, as many of its routes are not profitable. It said in October that it recognised, with growing awareness of the higher CO2 emissions from a flight that using the train or coach, (and "flight shame") that some of the domestic routes should be scrapped. Now Flybe cannot pay its APD bill to the government - about £100 million over three years. So the government, which talked up the importance of regional connectivity before the election, is considering removing APD from all domestic flights. That would be entirely the opposite of what is needed, to tackle UK carbon emissions, and those from UK aviation in particular. Aviation is already subsidised by not paying VAT. The loss to the Treasury from cutting domestic APD would have to be made up by  taxation from other sources. It is not as if all domestic flights are vital to the economy. Most are leisure passengers, making trips to visit places or people, friends or family. 

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