Airlines ‘must end cheap travel’ to fulfil climate pledge

The era of cheap air travel must end if the airline industry is to cap its greenhouse gas emissions, a new study has found. The research indicates that unless plane ticket prices rise by at least 1.4% a year, efforts to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will be outweighed by the growth in passengers.

The cost of air travel has become 1.3 per cent cheaper a year on average since 1979 – a long-term trend that must be reversed, according to the University of Southampton study which was published in the journal Atmospheric Environment in August.
 
Even if the aviation industry invests heavily in more efficient technology and introduces lower-carbon fuels, growth in demand for flights is likely to surpass improvements in fuel efficiency. To meet its pledge for ‘carbon-neutral growth by 2020’, the industry would have to discourage passenger growth by making flying more expensive.
 
‘There is little doubt that increasing demand for air travel will continue for the foreseeable future,’ said the study’s co-author Professor John Preston. ‘As a result, civil aviation is going to become an increasingly significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.’
 
Annual passengers growth would need to be halved from 4.8 per cent to 2.4 per cent a year to cap emissions at the level projected for 2020. It was calculated that the ticket price increase necessary to lower demand would value carbon emissions at up to 100 times the current price.
 
‘This would translate to a yearly 1.4% increase on ticket prices, breaking the trend of increasingly lower airfares,’ said study co-author Matt Grote. ‘The price of domestic tickets has dropped by 1.3% a year between 1979 and 2012, and international fares have fallen by 0.5% a year between 1990 and 2012.’
 
But the study’s authors accept that moves to curb demand by increasing fares would be resisted by consumers. They also suggest that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) ‘lacks the legal authority to force compliance’. The report concluded that ‘there is an urgent requirement for a global regulator with teeth to be established.’
 
Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at T&E, said: ‘This is further hard evidence that the aviation industry is on an unsustainable course. Tickets are getting progressively cheaper, traffic continues to grow yet resistance to pricing aviation carbon meaningfully remains entrenched. On top of all this the sector clings to a raft of special privileges; no fuel tax or VAT and burgeoning state aid. When will governments understand this cannot continue?’
 
Aviation is the most carbon-intensive transport mode, responsible for about 5% of global man-made climate change. If it were a country, aviation would be ranked 7th in the world for CO2 emissions. EU aviation emissions, a third of global totals, have doubled since 1990 and will triple by 2050 if unchecked.
 
Last year, ICAO, agreed to ‘develop’ a global measure for 2020 to reduce airlines’ CO2 emissions, with the details to be agreed by its next assembly in 2016.