Above the clouds: UK aviation emission and flight trends in 2023

April 19, 2024

Pollution from UK-departing planes is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, and there is a very good chance that emissions levels in 2024 will be the highest ever

940,000 flights departed from UK airports

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Analysis of 2023 data shows that British Airways was far and away the biggest polluter. Ryanair was the second largest, with easyJet the third largest. Almost all airlines emitted more than they did in 2022, and some of them emitted the most they have ever.

At the same time, and despite the Government reaffirming its commitment to the polluter pays principle last year, airlines do not have to pay for the vast majority of carbon pollution they emit, through either the UK emissions trading scheme (UK ETS) or through fuel duty. This is the exact opposite to the nation’s farmers, car drivers, rail operators and Heavy Goods Vehicle owners, who all have to pay some duty on the fuel they burn.

The UK ETS treats different airlines in different ways, and this means that some airlines are treated unfairly. The average price per tonne of carbon emitted by airlines varies wildly. Wizz Air pays £34.23 per tonne, whilst Virgin Atlantic, unbelievably, pays nothing. This variation is for the simple reason that the UK ETS only applies to flights departing to somewhere else in the UK, or somewhere in the European Economic Area or Switzerland.

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