Outrage over airlines’ empty ‘ghost flights’
Airlines that run empty “ghost flights”, needlessly pumping hundreds of tonnes
of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, should face heavy fines, environmentalists
The Government was being urged to clamp down on the practice after it emerged
that British Airways had flown three long-haul services between London, Hong Kong
and Mumbai last week, even though staff illness meant there were no passengers
It is estimated that between them the three Boeing 747-400s produced the equivalent
amount of CO2 to that emitted by 200 to 300 motorists in a year.
Tim Johnson, the director of the Aviation Environmental Federation, said the current system of levying air-passenger duty, which charges an environmental
tax of up to £80 per ticket rather than a flat rate per aircraft, provided a “perverse
incentive” for aircraft to fly empty. The system is due to change in November
“Moving to an aircraft-based duty is an attempt to encourage airlines to a higher
pay load factor, but in the interim a carbon penalty would make up for the shortfall
there would otherwise be pending its introduction,” Mr Johnson said.
BA defended its decision to go ahead with the flights, saying they were carrying
cargo loads and that it was the only way of preventing major knock-on disruption
to passengers expecting to board return flights in India and the Far East, and
of stopping delays to those aircraft awaiting fresh crew. “We operate an extremely
small number of empty flights and, when we do so, we do it in order to minimise
overall disruption. This is the least worst solution to a complex problem,” a
BA spokesman said.
However, while commercial airlines seek to operate at between 80 and 90% capacity,
environmentalists say they can still do better. According to figures published
by the Civil Aviation Authority, British airlines flew 80 billion empty seat kilometres in 2007.
John Stewart, who is leading the opposition to the creation of a third runway at Heathrow,
which will increase the number of plane movements at the airport by 50%, said:
“These empty flights, as far as people on the ground are concerned, are still
making noise and as far as climate change is concerned they are still spewing
The Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Steve Webb, backed calls for an interim
levy on empty flights. “It is a stop-gap measure to stamp out this abhorrent practice
pending a rationalisation of landing slots at UK airports,” he said.
environmental campaigners for flying an empty passenger plane in order to keep
hold of its landing slots.
not appeared on departure or arrival boards, none of the 124 tickets were sold
and all passenger seats remained empty.
into the atmosphere on each 140-mile journey. But why would an airline be prepared
to run hundreds of flights at a loss?
its highly sought-after landing slots at Heathrow, which have been known to fetch
up to £10m each.
disputes reports that the empty flights have cost it £2m, but acknowledges a business
motive lay behind the decision.
in Uzbekistan, in the wake of civil unrest.
at Heathrow by the firm Airport Co-ordination Ltd (ACL) is known as the Use it
or Lose it rule.
session to preserve the entitlement or it risks seeing rivals take over the slot.
this can be justified on the basis of “unforeseeable” circumstances. However,
this would normally only cover a short period.
for a few months.
and Central Asia, says it will start using the slot again for commercial flights
in April 2007.
and winter seasons, it was necessary to preserve the slot,” said BMed chief executive,
campaigners said the flights showed up “anomalies” in the current air tax system.
“It is a crazy situation but the tax regime supports this kind of behaviour,”
said Richard Dyer from Friends of the Earth.
propose where airlines pay a tax on every plane based on carbon emissions, there
would be a much greater incentive not to run these kind of flights.”
BMed landing slots.
to the nature of one airline’s operations in comparison to those of other airlines,”
it said in a statement.
occurrence but airlines are free to use their slots as they wish.”