Right to fly

A group of environmental researchers from Oxford University has put the boot into the phenomenon of cheap, mass-market air travel, branding it a menace to the planet.

A group of environmental researchers from OxfordUniversity has put the boot into the phenomenon of cheap, mass-market air travel, branding it a menace to the planet and calling for it to be forcibly priced out of existence.

The Oxford report, in essence, boils down to the following – there’s not a hope in hell of the government meeting its emissions reduction targets if cheap fares keep on pushing up demand for flights.

The quick and easy fix is to pile on the duty levels, stifling growth and eventually pushing down the number of flights made as those £40 return tickets to Barcelona become a thing of the past.

It’s back to the 1970s after that, when a flight to Spain cost most people a month’s wages and a trip across the Atlantic was as out of reach of the majority of the population as a journey to the moon.

The study is a serious and impressive piece of work, but the fact that its suggested solution to the question of aviation emissions is the bluntest of blunt instruments available to any government, namely extra taxation, is deeply worrying.

The commercial aviation industry and its suppliers in the aerospace sector are only too well aware that the heat is on, so to speak, over their contribution to global warming.

Speak to any of the major players in the aerospace sector – Boeing, Airbus or Rolls-Royce, for example – and they will tell you that technical innovation that can make aircraft and their engines cleaner, quieter and more efficient is the holy grail of much of their current R&D work.

They are not just saying this because it sounds like a virtuous position to adopt. It is reality, and we all know it. The Oxford report acknowledges the role technology has to play in cutting emissions and then, more or less, comes to the conclusion that it will be too little, too late.

Can we really write off the technology-led approach so easily? Let’s give our aerospace engineers a fighting chance to bring their considerable talents to bear on this issue. The alternative is to place in jeopardy one of the great economic, social and technical success stories of our age. For low-cost air travel is nothing less than that, a genuine symbol of freedom, democracy and progress.

Andrew Lee


The Engineer & The Engineer Online