The Price vs The Cost of Flying
Sean Goulding Carroll
July 14, 2022
Last month saw members of the European Parliament vote on several proposals that will have major ramifications for the future of transport. One such proposal concerned aviation carbon allowances, with the Parliament’s environment committee greenlighting proposals to make airlines pay more to pollute.
Above - new aircraft like the Airbus A350 are quieter and cleaner than earlier airliners
Essentially, the Parliament wants every flight departing from the EU to pay for the carbon they emit via the EU’s Emission Trading System, with free allowances scrapped by 2025. Currently, more than a half of airline emissions are covered by free allowances. In 2019, airlines were granted some €800 million worth of gratuities.
Unsurprisingly, the aviation industry has baulked at the lawmakers’ proposals. “Phasing out free allowances by 2025 – even before decarbonisation technologies such as [Sustainable Aviation Fuels] are widely available, will only make travelling in Europe more expensive,” said a spokesperson from A4E, a group representing European airlines.
For sensationalist red-top tabloids, the headline and sub-heading would have written themselves: “EUROCRATS GIVE CHEAP FLIGHTS THE KISS OF DEATH – Brussels expects holiday goers to shell out more to fly!”
It has the twin tabloid virtues of being attention-grabbing and not entirely true. Firstly, the vote was in the environment committee only – it still needs to be approved by the European Parliament as a whole. It will then form the Parliament’s position in negotiations with national governments – inter-institutional wrangling known as a ‘trilogue’ (if you haven’t already, add trilogue to the list of ugly EU jargon that renders the law-making process impenetrable to most citizens).
Only after these negotiations between the Parliament and member states is the final text agreed. What is signed off on, in the end, may differ quite a bit from the ENVI committee’s approved text.
New engine technology has made huge strides and will only improve still further
Secondly, it’s unclear to what degree the current proposals would impact prices. Airline ticket prices move in mysterious ways, as anyone who has seen the cost of a flight jump wildly from one day to the next can attest. There are myriad factors that go into determining the price of flying, from fuel prices to airport slot costs, to demand for a particular journey, with green measures just one of the elements to consider.
It’s true that the extra cost of adhering to EU climate laws certainly won’t make flying cheaper. But whether 'cheap' flights will be a thing of the past because of climate laws cannot be said with certainty.
In contrast to the lamentations of industry, green NGOs welcomed the legislative proposal.
“[This] vote marks an essential change of direction to ensure polluters pay and not our planet,” said Jo Dardenne, aviation manager with the clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment.
Low ticket prices have allowed many Europeans to experience both the continent, and indeed the world, in a way that was scarcely possible before. However, the cost of these cheap flights for the environment cannot be ignored.
Lawmakers must walk a perilous tightrope between maintaining air connectivity and all the benefits that come with it, while accurately accounting for the climate harm of flying.
In the end, the exercise comes down to balancing the price of a ticket with the cost of flying.
© Sean Goulding Carroll / Euractive News
Nobody will deny that Humanity's lack of regard for the welfare of the planet we inhabit (along with all the life it contains) has been abysmal. So there will be general agreement that we need to clean up our act.
The already battered air transport industry, still suffering from government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, is an easy target however. Yet if COVID-19 proved anything, it is that airlines and airports play a vital role in maintaining societies - they are not just about carrying planeloads of carefree holidaymakers on a jolly weekend somewhere.
Nothing will be gained by remorselessly shoving ourselves back to a time when transport did not exist (and let's not forget that sea and ocean-going transport, along with road use, is also a target for climate change activists). The green lobby has become highly influential but politicians need to pay less attention to their exhortations and start looking at what is being done now, what can still be done and the effect of chasing easy votes is on the societies they are supposed to serve.
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