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'A competitive disadvantage': Airlines respond to proposal to ban miles

Oct. 15, 2019
3 min read
'A competitive disadvantage': Airlines respond to proposal to ban miles
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Airlines in the United Kingdom are responding after a report suggested that the key to reducing carbon emissions was banning airline miles and mileage runs.

Imperial College London for the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) last week published a report calling for a ban on airline miles and a levy on frequent flyers. The report suggests that emissions from one return ticket from London to New York are roughly equivalent to that of heating a typical home for a year.

"An Air Miles Levy which escalates with the air miles traveled by an individual within a three-year accounting period could provide strong price signals to curb some demand by less price-sensitive frequent flyers," the authors wrote, "encourage shifting from long-haul to short-haul destinations and fund research into low-carbon aviation technology, while sparing the large majority of travelers any extra cost."

The report also suggests a levy on "excessive flying" by 15% of the British population responsible for 70% of flights taken. Airlines U.K., a trade body that includes British Airways, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, told CNBC that the recommendations would hurt their airlines.

“U.K. aviation has a robust plan to cut aviation carbon emissions and get to net-zero by 2050 without the need to price people out of air travel or put the U.K. at a competitive disadvantage,” the trade body told CNBC on Tuesday.

And a spokesperson for U.K.’s Board of Airline Representatives, which represents most of the airlines operating in Britain, told the network that it's "a drop in the ocean as to what can be done by the government."

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In an op-ed for The Business Travel News, Airlines U.K. chief executive Tim Alderslade noted that the industry needed to focus more on sustainability, saying that the alternative would mean being "seen as a problem child."

"Governments — and passengers — have made it known that for aviation to continue to grow it must demonstrate it can do so in a responsible manner," Alderslade wrote. "We get that — and are working incredibly hard to demonstrate that net-zero is the right target at the right time, and within reach by 2050."

The report is the latest that takes aim at airlines directly for what activists see as detrimental to the environment.

James Brown, a former British Paralympian, took matters into his own hands and climbed on top of a British Airways plane preparing for takeoff at London City Airport (LCY) on October 10, according to the Independent. Livestreaming from on top of the plane, Brown said that he was protesting "against government inaction on climate and ecological breakdown.”

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) CEO Rickard Gustafson told TPG UK in July that he believed the flight-shaming movement is responsible for the slump in Swedish air traffic, which fell over 5% in the first quarter of 2019. By contrast, passenger numbers rose by 4.4% in Europe during the same period.

Most airlines already have internal practices and plans to decrease their carbon footprint. Alaska Airlines, for instance, partners with to allow customers to offset part of the carbon footprint from their flights. And in 2007, Delta became the first US carrier to launch a carbon offsetting program for customers.