The proposal to charge drivers between £10 and £15 to access Heathrow Airport brings forward the debate about aviation and climate change yet again.
Punitive charges on airline passengers are reaching ridiculous levels but are unlikely to deter travellers or reduce emissions.
Way back in 1994 the UK government introduced Air Passenger Duty (APD). The tax was originally intended to address emissions from aviation, and was initially set at between £5 (for journeys within the UK) and £40 for long-haul flights. This year, the fees range between £13 and £172 depending on the distance that passengers are travelling and the cabin in which they are seated. Over the intervening 25 years, all pretense that APD was designed to combat climate change by discouraging or limiting air travel has been abandoned and the fees are treated as general taxation with non of the money raised going to causes that address the environmental impact of aviation. Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport's standard passenger fee is now set at as much as £44 (non-discounted rate). On top of this, the airport is proposing to levy a £10 - £15 fee on vehicles accessing the terminal area and car parks from 2022.
The combined fees mean a business class passenger boarding a long-haul flight from London's premier airport could be paying £230 before they even set foot in an aeroplane and before the airline they are travelling with receives any money. Prices for tickets will be set accordingly. What's more, it is questionable whether any of this money will really go to address the impact aviation has on the environment or climate change - it is simply a tax on aviation.
Will a £15 fee discourage a business traveller from flying when they are already forking out £3,000 or more to travel to the USA? Very unlikely. Will having to pay another £15 alter the behavior of these airport users? No. Is a £15 vehicle access fee at the airport really a deterrent when the Heathrow Express rail service costs £22 - £25 one way? Again the answer seems to be no. Will a £15 access charge deter customers from parking at the airport when the long-stay car parking charges are £29.50 - £34.00 (for the first day, subsequent days £23.50 - £27.00). The answer would seem to be that if you accept the parking charges, paying £15 doesn't change much.
Lets be realistic about these punitive charges. They are unlikely to deter many of Heathrow's users or change their behavior. The money raised is almost certainly NOT going to be directed towards climate change mitigation - it will merely go into the airport's and the government's coffers and become yet another revenue stream foisted on long-suffering and already high-paying travellers.
The aviation industry is already doing a great deal to combat climate change. New aircraft produce far less emissions that the previous generation and airlines are investing a great deal in new equipment. Emissions are already down on a per-passenger basis, and the industry is aiming for carbon-neutral growth from next year. It is also targeting a cut of 50% in emissions by 2050.
Another runway at Heathrow has the potential to CUT emissions, if its use is regulated. It will enable airborne holding (stacking) to be reduced, ensuring that aircraft spend the minimum time in the air while on approach to the airport. Unfortunately, none of this seems to matter to anti-flying campaigners or goverments who see air travellers as an easy taxation target.
With the campaign group Extinction Rebellion threatening to bring flights into Heathrow to a halt later this month through the use of drone (itself an action that is likely to increase emissions due to aircraft having to be held in the air), the airport needed to be seen to be doing something. The proposed access charges seem to be the answer it has come up with.
But the addition charges are no answer. They will not affect behavior, and they will not be used to address climate change. Heathrow already has some of the highest user charges in the country and the UK is among the highest air passenger taxers in the world. Extra fees are just another means of extracting yet more money from easy targets - airline customers - and will deliver NO benefits whatsoever.
Its time to stop ripping off airline passengers. It is ridiculous that some airline passengers will be paying £230 before they even take off. Its time for the government to acknowledge that air travellers are already paying their way. And it is time for airports like Heathrow to stop piling a thinly disguised means of raising money for expansion on customers in the name of climate change. How much higher can charges go? Very much higher before behavior really changes. Sadly airports and governments know this and will continue to treat airline passengers with contempt for years to come.
Text © The Aviation Oracle