General News

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

 

Letter to Chancellor saying there is no economic or social case for government funding of aviation decarbonisation projects

A group of aviation campaigns have sent a joint letter to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak. This comes in response to a letter sent by Sir Graham Brady and other MP signatories, asking the Treasury to invest in aviation decarbonisation. The campaigners' letter says: "... there is no economic or social case for the government to invest taxpayers’ money in projects that might reduce aviation’s emissions. Doing so would perpetuate the current moral hazard in which the industry pollutes with impunity but expects others to bear the consequences and clean up after it."  Data from the ONS shows air transport, and services incidental to it, account for less than 0.7% of GDP and only 0.4% of jobs. "The industry’s increasingly meaningless assertions, such as the one in Sir Graham’s letter that aviation “supports” 4.5% of GDP, should be treated with the scepticism they deserve". The industry overwhelmingly provides leisure, not trade, services. Over 80% of UK passengers travel for leisure purposes.  "Using taxpayers’ funds to further support [aviation]... should be inconceivable in the current economic context." What is needed is "effective regulation that obliges the industry to decarbonise" and urgent government reform of regulation of the industry’s environmental impacts. See the full letter. 

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Plan for cargo hub at Manston Airport seriously flawed, says consultant

An aviation consultant, Peter Forbes (from Alan Strafford & Associates) has joined a group which believes the attempt to turn Manston airport into a cargo hub is seriously flawed.  Mr Forbes believes RSP sees the only real value in the land as housing or industrial development.  Its plans, even if they ever worked out, would be in addition to cargo flights at East Midlands, which handles the second largest tonnage in the UK after Heathrow.  Mr Forbes also questioned the jobs figures that the airport is claiming, and its location, “The key disadvantage of Manston is its location at the extreme south-east corner of the UK and its poor surface access. Historic traffic levels at the airport have generally been modest." “The increased onward distribution times at Manston are particularly relevant for perishable goods, which comprise a significant proportion of all dedicated freighter cargo. In addition, the inability to offer night flights at the airport, which is a condition …, will be a significant constraint for the development of a freight hub, particularly for main international freight package couriers such as Fedex, UPS and DHL.”  Two other aviation consultants, York Aviation and AviaSolutions, have also apparently said the airport is not viable.

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AEF argues why government should NOT cut APD; it is needed as part of a greener recovery for the sector

The airlines take every opportunity to lobby to have APD (Air Passenger Duty) reduced, in an attempt to get more people to fly.  "Airlines UK" representing BA, easyJet and Ryanair etc have again called on the UK government to suspend the tax. In fact, APD is only £13 for a return flight anywhere in Europe, so not enough to deter passengers. The AEF (Aviation Environment Federation) argues the case against any cuts in APD. They say there is no need to cut the tax, as air fares are likely to be low anyway, while airlines struggle to recover from the Covid hit; oil prices are also low. Air travel is substantially under-taxed, and there can be no justification for reducing its cost further, increasing demand and thus CO2 emissions. Air travel demand should not be encouraged, while there are no meaningful policies to tackle the sector's environmental impacts - noise and air pollution, as well as CO2.  Airlines have benefited substantially from public funds, through furloughing staff; they should not be allowed to pay even less tax, while all sectors must make a fair contribution towards rebuilding public finances. And foreign holidays should not be incentivised at a time when the UK’s domestic tourism and hospitality sectors need to rebuild.  Read the whole briefing.

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British Airways have the PSO contract (since Flybe’s demise) for taxpayer subsidised flights between Heathrow and Newquay

The government agreed in 2018 to subsidise flights from Newquay to Heathrow. These were initially to be by Flybe. Flybe then collapsed in March 2020. The subsidy is through a Public Service Obligation (PSO) intended to give financial assistance to unprofitable routes, which are deemed "vital" for an area.  The cost to the taxpayer was expected to be £3,4 million, over the 4 years of the PSO, till 2022.  That would be £1.7 million from the DfT and £1.7 million from Cornwall Council.  It appears that since Flybe collapsed, the PSO was put out to tender again. British Airways is now being paid £125,000 per month to operate these flights. The website Simple Flying says "under the emergency order, the  [Cornwall] council will be paying British Airways £877,596 excluding VAT, to operate services to Newquay for 7 months .... According to details on the European Union’s Tenders Electronic Daily, the 7-month contract was issued as a result of the collapse of Flybe. Only one compliant bid, that of British Airways, was received in the 48 hours that the proposal was open."  No passengers used Newquay airport in May 2020. The first flight date shown is 3rd September 2020.

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Carbon Action Tracker assessment of international aviation sector – Critically Insufficient

The organisation, Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has assessed the international aviation sector, to see what commitments it has made to cutting carbon.The aim is to establish whether a sector is on target to agreed Paris Agreement commitments, hoping to keep global temperature increase to below 2C (or 1.5C ideally). They conclude that international aviation is in the lowest of their 5 categories, of "Critically Insufficient". If all countries and sectors did as little to cut emissions, and took the same approach, we would be on track for warming of over 4C.  CAT explain the many reasons why the ICAO's CORSIA scheme, with its low ambition and only partial coverage of the sector, is insufficient. It is now impossible to predict future air travel demand, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, even if demand returns in the next three years, airlines will be under no obligation to offset their carbon, as emissions will probably be lower than in the year decided as the baseline, 2019. "Pre-COVID projections suggested that international aviation emissions would amount to 750 Mt in 2030 under an optimistic technology improvements scenario, or to 880 Mt under a low technology improvement scenario."

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Night train routes are emerging, or re-emerging, across Europe – as people want to avoid flying

For a lower-carbon way to travel further afield in Europe, the night trains were a wonderful alternative. Travelling relatively slowly, they cause the emission of far less carbon than flights. But the advent of budget airlines and dirt cheap fares meant that over the past 20 years, most night train services were closed down. Now there seems to be a resurgence of interest, with new routes being announced. The Swedish government said it would provide funds for two new routes to connect the cities of Stockholm and Malmö with Hamburg and Brussels. France has announced an overnight service between Paris and Nice. Austrian train operator ÖBB bought 42 sleeper cars from Deutsche Bahn in 2016 and has resumed half of the night-time routes connecting Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Düsseldorf to Austria, Switzerland and Italy.  There is a route between Sylt in northern Germany and Salzburg in Austria.  There is renewed enthusiasm among some of the public, as people reflect more deeply on how they travel - partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but also increased concern about climate breakdown. The recovery of the night train may not be all smooth running, however, as the economics of night services remain difficult.

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APPG on Heathrow Expansion and Regional Connectivity launches inquiry into Building Aviation Back Better

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heathrow Expansion and Regional Connectivity has  launched an inquiry into how the aviation industry can build back in a post Covid-19 world.  The APPG is keen to receive  evidence from a range of organisations on how to build a more sustainable aviation policy that supports both workers and the environment. People have till 14th September to respond. The sector is unlikely to recover to levels of flying in 2019 till perhaps 2023. This presents an opportunity to reset the UK’s aviation strategy and initiate a green recovery. This should set aviation on a fairer and more sustainable course, while providing any support necessary for workers to shift to green jobs. Aviation policy which must strike an equitable balance between the benefits aviation brings and its adverse environmental, economic and health costs. The issues on which the APPG is seeking comment include the Aviation White Paper, taxation, regional balance, bailouts, the UK policy framework for decarbonisation, and community impacts, such as noise, night flights and air pollution.

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Net Zero APPG says there needs to be a Carbon Takeback Obligation on sectors like airlines, to permanently remove CO2

A Net Zero All Party Parliamentary Group (NZ APPG) has been set up, to assess the progress being made by the UK towards its climate target.  The group has set out a 10 point action plan, to get the government to scale up its efforts to "drive the UK towards net zero and ensure a green Covid recovery."  There is an immense need for a "green recovery package to accelerate economic growth, create jobs and reduce emissions.” This has to focus on green-job creation, prioritise energy efficiency, decarbonise heat, and energy storage.  The right investment, and the right regulatory conditions are needed.  The NZ APPG want the Chancellor to develop a clear and systematic Net Zero Roadmap, complete with interim targets and robust implementation, review and governance arrangements. On aviation, they say UK should "Establish a ‘Carbon Takeback Obligation’ for fossil fuel extractors and importers, and airlines, requiring them to permanently store an increasing percentage of the CO2 generated by the products they sell, rising to 100% (net zero emissions) by 2050."

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Business air travel likely to remain at lower levels, for years – big impact on airline finances

The airline industry has largely been funded by business air travel, and those paying for premium seats, or very high air fares, bought at the last minute. Cheaper air tickets to get "bums on seats" would not themselves enable airlines to make profits; the expensive seats are what enable those cheap tickets to be offered. Now the demand for flights has collapsed due to Covid, and the decline in business flying is intense. Many companies do not see their level of business flying returning. Some think there may be a return in perhaps two years, though it may never happen. Will visiting clients/customers be as vital in future, to make deals or impress?  Business travel in the US makes up 60% to 70% of industry sales, according to estimates by the trade group Airlines for America. The standard and acceptability of internet communications, video-conferencing, and Zoom have shown many organisations that they do not need much air travel. Companies do not want to risk staff getting abroad and being stranded.  Business passengers travelling to big cities like London have created hotel, catering, conference, taxi etc demand, but that is all likely to reduce in future. Even if/when Covid is beaten, the impacts on business flying are likely to be long-term.

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£200 million from government for research into lower carbon planes

The UK government has unveiled £400m in private and public sector funding for technologies and research aimed at cutting aviation CO2 emissions. BEIS has announced that projects aiming to develop high performance engines, new wing designs and ultra-lightweight cabin seats - all intended to cut fuel consumption - will be getting funding from the Government's Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) programme of £200 million.  Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the £200 million would be matched by £200m from industry. There may also be money from universities, including Nottingham and Birmingham, for this research. The ambition is "zero carbon aviation" as  part of the Government's FlyZero initiative. Britain would like to become a world leader etc in lower carbon aviation technologies. There is a The Net Zero All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of MPs that is working on the necessary transition to "net zero" by 2050.  The UK needs to be seen to be leading on this, before hosting COP26 in November 2021 (postponed from Nov 2020). The APPG has a 10 point action plan that says fossil fuel extractors and importers, as well as airlines, should be required to permanently store an increasing percentage of CO2 generated by the products they sell, rising to 100% by 2050, via a proposed "carbon takeback obligation."

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