Trains before planes? Reining in airlines’ environmental footprint

A decrease in flights within the UK has been linked to the successful implementation of aviation taxes and improvements in train travel. This comes amid increasing pressure to tax airlines across the EU.

The number of flights around the UK has fallen by almost 20 percent in the last 10 years, according to an analysis of Civil Aviation Authority data carried out by the Financial Times this week.

The analysis shows that domestic routes with more than 1,000 passengers per year have fallen from 228 in 2007 to 188 in 2017.

The decrease is mainly due to an aviation tax of £13, which is included in the price of domestic flights, airline and airport representatives interviewed by the Financial Times claimed.

But noticeable improvements in train travel, which now offers a more competitive alternative to flights, may have also played a role. The number of fast trains travelling longer distances within the UK has increased by 40 percent over the past 10 years, according to the Office of Rail and Road.

Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is responsible for about 4.9% of man-made global warming. Yet, unlike other more sustainable forms of transport, it remains largely untaxed across Europe.

Experts have long called for measures such as kerosene taxes and VAT on airline tickets to curb flights and boost train travel.

[The fall in domestic flights] shows that taxation has an important role to play in reining in aviation’s climate impact. And with aviation emissions having grown 26 percent in Europe in just the past five years, it’s essential that European governments now introduce aviation taxation EU-wide,” Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, told META.

He added:

“Given this will hit wealthy frequent fliers over those who don’t fly, there is no reason not to act.”

Recent studies have shown that family holidays and international business flights are not the main problem when it comes to the environmental impact of aviation. Instead, “the rich are being subsidised to destroy nature for fun as they take city-breaks every other weekend and commute to second homes and tax havens by plane,” campaigners at A Free Ride said.

Dutch State Secretary for Finance Menno Snel recently pitched the idea of a flight tax in the EU in response to growing protests against climate inaction. The measure was supported by France, Belgium and Finland. But the adoption of any tax at the EU level would require a unanimous vote by all 28 member states – something that significantly reduces the chances of legislation when it comes to fiscal measures.