David Soskin CEO, Cheapflights.co.uk debated with environmentalists at the Institute of Idea’s ” Battle of Ideas” event on 29 October 2006.
In the debate, he strongly disputed assertions by some environmentalists that aviation is “a destroyer of the planet” and that aviation is “a major contributor to global warming”. Instead, he accused them of proposing shortsighted kneejerk taxation solutions which would actually be counterproductive in achieving lower aircraft emissions.
In dismissing the ‘Green’ and the EU’s current arguments for additional taxation on flying, David Soskin pointed out that aviation’s current global contribution to manmade emissions is between 3 and 3.5% . This is a very small percentage when seen as a proportion of the transport sector as a whole, which contributes approximately 25% of global emissions. In the transport sector, UK aviation emissions are proportionally clearly less of a problem than those of road transport for example and small indeed compared to European merchant shipping which emits around a third more carbon than aircraft do. On the UK domestic front, aviation pollution pales in comparison to the 45% contribution in the UK made by buildings’ emissions.
In his speech, David Soskin pointed out that increased taxation, especially unilateral UK action, would make flying an elitist or businessonly preserve and would hit hardest those on low incomes.
Additional taxation on an industry that already contributes £1 billion to the Exchequer in the UK through Air Passenger Duty alone does not take into account the potential downsides of such action and the many more practical and positive alternatives to achieving a reduction in global aviation carbon emissions, namely:
* Actual improvements in aircraft technology
* Possible improvements in air traffic and airport management, which wastes 350,000 flying hours per annum in Europe alone , potentially to reduce fuel usage by 10%.
* The damaging socioeconomic effect on developing countries hugely dependent on tourism.
* The exclusion from flying of the UK lower paid. According to the British Attitudes Survey of 2003, of those who have never worked or are unemployed, a quarter fly once or twice a year; and for those in routine and semiroutine occupations, nearly half fly once, twice or even three times a year.
David Soskin argued that it has been previously been suggested, even by the UK Government, that additional taxation may not reduce air travel. Elliot Morley, Environment Minister at the time, said last year that there was no evidence either that a tax on aviation fuel would cut emissions. Instead, he pointed out, “The evidence is that people will simply pay the tax and continue to travel and we won’t actually stop the growth.”
David Soskin suggested that due to the obvious international nature of the airline industry, increasing taxes unilaterally on travel through UK airports could be very detrimental for UK airlines (and the supporting industry) without having much of an impact on worldwide air traffic. In its White Paper, The Future of Air Transport, published in December 2003, the Department for Transport (DfT) stated that “a unilateral approach to fuel tax would not be effective” - because it would be an almost impossible task to ensure all countries applied equal taxes or charges, airlines would simply move their business to other countries, routing their flights through different hubs.
The result: the 200,000 people employed directly and the 600,000 employed indirectly by the aviation industry in the UK would lose out. The DfT concluded that any action taken to tackle the environmental impacts of aviation must take into account “the effects on competitiveness of UK aviation and the impact on consumers” (in terms of higher travel costs). “Air Passenger Duty is not the ideal measure for tackling the environmental impacts of aviation”.
As an alternative, David Soskin suggests that airplanes and their engines have great scope for improved efficiencies, such as better aerodynamics and improved fuel efficiency. The aim of decreasing traffic and carbon emissions through taxation on flights is more likely to delay such progress by increasing financial pressure on the airlines and slowing their ability to invest in new and efficient fleets.
Already the new Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ is expected to use 20% less fuel than current similarly sized aircraft and the new Airbus A380 is also a great leap forward in more efficient passenger flight. The DfT, again, in conjunction with the Advisory Council for Aeronautical Research in Europe, suggest that fuel efficiency gains arising from fleet replacement and technology improvements could lead to a 50% reduction in CO2 production by 2020. The introduction of additional taxation will only delay this further.
David Soskin argued that it is also obvious that unilateral UK or European action on carbon emissions will not address the global problem. As The Economist recently pointed out: “Within a decade, China will emit more greenhouse gases than any other country.”
David Soskin commented: “If the environmentalists really want to curb global warming speedily, they should forget kneejerk gestures attacking the easy target provided by the high profile aviation industry. This is an industry which contributes enormously to the global economy through business, tourism and cultural exchange. This is why its continued growth and ability to upgrade its aircraft is so important. We should also remember aviation has one of the smallest carbon emission footprints of any major industry; so small in fact that Al Gore in his brilliant analysis on global warming “An Inconvenient Truth” did not even mention aviation.”
He added: “Taxation simply won’t solve the problem. What it will do is have farreaching damaging consequences on the less welloff at home and on the poorest nations abroad. It will inhibit the ability of airlines to buy more modern and efficient aircraft and the speed at which new technology can be developed and introduced. If they wish rapidly to reduce global carbon emissions, the environmentalists should target their considerable efforts on the creators of the 97% of global emissions which have nothing whatsoever to do with aviation but which may be more politically difficult to confront.”