Soaring oil prices will clip the aviation industry’s wings

22.6.2008     (Scotsman – opinion)

SCOTTISH Government plans to expand Edinburgh Airport run contrary to both environmental
and commercial sense.

This commitment ignores both the overwhelming imperative to tackle climate change,
and recent realistic projections of future passenger numbers. The aviation industry
is currently the fastest-growing source of climate-wrecking pollution and the
w of opportunity we have to tackle climate change is closing.   We must look again
at the need for airport expansion.

WWF recently commissioned independent experts to rework the UK Government’s air
passenger forecasts for 2030 in order to factor in a realistic price for oil and
the impact of policies which encourage a switch to trains and the use of video-conferencing.  
The results were clear: there will not be enough passengers to justify expanding
any of the country’s airports.

The Government’s forecast assumes oil prices today are only $60 a barrel and
will fall to $53 by 2012, remaining at that level indefinitely. Today, oil costs
close to $140 a barrel, with some analysts forecasting prices as high as $200
in the near future.

Doubling the Government’s estimate to a conservative assumption of $106 a barrel
in 2030 reduces air passenger growth by 15% alone.

In recent weeks we’ve seen airline companies grounding flights and Scottish airports
admitting to sharp slumps in passenger numbers, due in part to increased fuel

It seems clear that if the Government remains committed to the intended airport
expansion it will mean building and investing on the basis of ill-informed forecasts
of future passengers.

The same study found that greater use of video-conferencing and alternative methods
of travel combined could reduce passenger growth by a further 13%.

WWF’s recent Travelling Light report (Travelling Light (32 pages – pdf)   )     revealed that 89% of the FTSE 350 companies expect to fly less over the next  10
years and use videoconferencing more.

Even with hikes in oil prices and shifts to sustainable alternatives, we will
still need greater action to curb climate emissions from the aviation industry.
It is therefore vital that the governments at both Westminster and Holyrood include
aviation emissions in their forthcoming legislation on climate change.

The Climate Change Bill presents Scottish ministers with a valuable opportunity
to show global leadership. Nearly 20,000 individuals, including 12,000 from 145
different countries, have called on the Scottish Government to include emissions
from international aviation and shipping.  

Alongside this, greater investment in alternatives to flying, rather than the
expansion of airports, will be critical if the Government is to put Scotland on
track to a low-carbon future. The eyes of the world are on us.

Dr Sam Gardner, WWF Scotland

Scotland on Sunday