Airline bailouts: save people, not planes

It is unacceptable that aviation’s profits are privatised, while it expects its losses to be covered by the public

EasyJet optimizes the surging recent growth of the airline industry. It sells cheap short haul flights to consumers who may well have opted for the train or stayed local were it not for the twisted contemporary economics of travel and aggressive marketing of an industry that refuses to own its huge environmental impacts.

In the UK trains are prohibitively expensive because of decades of underinvestment from governments with vested interests in high carbon travel. Airlines pay no fuel duty and VAT is zero rated allowing artificially cheap flights. Aviation creates massive air and noise pollution around airports. Its vast emissions dissipate into our shared atmosphere driving the climate emergency - wildfires, ocean acidification and rising seas. The costs of these impacts are paid for by others in society - often the least well off.

EasyJet has a £1.6bn cash balance, an undrawn credit facility of $500m (£402m) and mortgage-free aircraft worth £4bn. Early this month EasyJet paid a £171m dividend to its shareholders, including £60m for founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou who has moved to the tax haven of Monaco. Aviation executives, not least Richard Branson, are lobbying ministers for £7.5bn to avert a “catastrophe” that would wipe out tens of thousands of jobs. What is worse, the climate catastrophe (that could kill billions) or the contraction of a sector that is iconic of a dangerously out of control global economy?

The Green New Deal demonstrates the immense potential for creating new meaningful work for people in the transition to healthier and happier ecological societies. Saving unsustainable jobs should not be a priority for governments battling coronavirus. The international Stay Grounded network, consisting of 157 member organisations, in a letter to the transport ministers, opposes these bailouts and instead demands public funding to be provided to take care of people, not airlines.

“While we are all in shock, huge sums of taxpayers’ money might be given to prop up environmentally damaging industries. Let’s not bail out shareholders and executives who have spent years lining their pockets, while hundreds of thousands of small businesses, owner-operated restaurants and creative artists go out of business. Crisis requires solidarity - let’s wash our hands of the virus, not responsibility”, says Magdalena Heuwieser from Stay Grounded.

Ryanair, the biggest aviation emitter in Europe, has been slammed for misleading claims that it’s a green airline

It is unacceptable that the industry’s profits are privatised, while it expects its losses to be covered by the public.

The airline industry has a history of tax avoidance and of seeking and obtaining special treatment while treating workers badly. According to Stay Grounded, the current situation requires collaborative planning for a just transition: employees in the aviation sector should receive training for climate friendly jobs, privatisations have to be reconsidered, and a shift towards climate-safe forms of travel has to be undertaken. It is no option to go back to business as usual after the Covid-19 crisis, as this would lead to an even bigger crisis.

“As bad as the Coronavirus is, its outcome will look like a bad cold compared to the consequences of the climate crisis, with entire countries on fire or underwater, mass starvation and forced migration”, says Magdalena Heuwieser. “If we can act collectively to stop thousands of deaths from the virus, surely we can do so to stop the millions predicted from climate disaster.

Let’s use this unintended pause in air travel to rethink what we can do to stop far worse consequences from climate collapse, and flying’s contribution to it.

The airline industry has made a fortune over the past decades, with higher growth rates than most other economic sectors - combined with soaring emissions. Aviation is already responsible for 5-8% of climate heating worldwide, when we include the climate impacts additional to the CO2.

This is a huge portion, given that about 90% of the world population has never set foot on an airplane.

**Petition - decline any requests for bailouts from the airline industry - **