Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

In the movie Do not look up, humans decide to ignore a terrifying scientific discovery: a comet is on course to destroy the earth. But give the idiots some credit. At least they are not trying to accelerate the speed at which the comet is approaching.

This is about what the EU’s aviation policy is doing. Brussels wants airlines to keep flying, even when there are not enough passengers to justify it. Lufthansa say that he would like to cancel 18,000 flights in the next three months, but can not do so without losing his valuable airport slots. These flights will hold fewer people than the average job in Downing Street. The thought of almost-empty planes emitting greenhouse gases should make our blood boil.

EU rules normally require airlines to operate 80 percent of their allotted airport slots. It reduced it to 50 percent during the pandemic, but it is still causing Lufthansa to stumble.

Brussels’ intransigence is backed by low-cost airlines, which say if Lufthansa can not perfect the planes, it will have to give them up. Michael O’Leary, head of Ryanair, a man so prone to publicity that he probably announced his own birth, accuses Lufthansa of “crying crocodile tears over the environment”.

O’Leary is on a list of people I hope to never be in a fight with, along with Tyson Fury, Dominic Cummings and whoever continues to break into cars on our street. But the European Commission must ignore him.

If you want to spend £ 100 on the most polluting way possible, buy a plane ticket. This is because the ticket price includes virtually nothing of the true cost: the UK subsidizes flights with more than £ 8 billion a year, just by not levying VAT or fuel tax. This contradicts O’Leary’s call for fair competition. Governments should feel relieved that the pandemic has helped wean people from flying.

In November, even before Omicron hit, international flights were down 47 percent worldwide on 2019. Fly has lost some of its charm: the realization that many flights are unnecessary, the struggle of Covid permits, the chance to sit next to an unvaccinated tennis star. John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow, an out-of-town shopping center with an airport attached, acknowledges that an end to Covid’s legacy will “probably be years away”.

My business friends guess that a quarter of their work trips never come back. At Lufthansa, business travel accounts for 30 percent of passenger numbers and 45 percent of revenue, analysts at Bernstein estimate. Maybe we can fill these gaps with Ryanair holidays. Or maybe we can act wisely and not force airlines to use their slots this year or next. If a climate emergency does not mean accepting a lull in air travel and interrupting airport expansion, what does it mean?

We can use the time to think of regular flying taxes: in England, the 10 percent most frequent pilots take half of overseas flights. We can invest like hell in sustainable fuel.

Ryanair’s sustainability plan relies on the fuel of aircraft with waste cooking oil. Spoilage: the world does not eat enough chips for airplanes to run on used fat. Synthetic alternatives to kerosene can do the job, as climate expert Chris Goodall points out, but they are currently small-scale.

Of course, aviation is only a fraction of our emissions. But the lack of urgency is pervasive. This week, master cattle picker Terry Smith downloaded on green pioneer Unilever, say its management was “obsessed with disclosing sustainability evidence at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business”.

Maybe Smith is right. Perhaps when the comet hits, we can comfort ourselves that management was at least focused on the fundamentals of the business. But can we give the alternative a try? Can we look up, and not worry that the planes are half empty in the name of the share price?

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