Airlines Efficiency Lie

In a rather timely manner, after my previous post, I read an article about some revelations in emissions caused by the airline industry. I won’t lie, I am silently smug because it supports my argument that the airline industry can do more to improve its efficiency. The International Council on Clean Transport, who are behind the VW emissions scandal, released a report that suggested there was a 51% difference in fuel efficiency between the most pollutant and cleanest airline.

Figure ES-1

Unfortunately, this new discovery will struggle to hit home as hard as the VW scandal because nobody is reading about it! How do I know this? The story was tucked away in the business section of the Guardian and didn’t make an appearance within the travel or environment section and the BBC didn’t even touch it! The financial times did cover the story here so obviously it’s more of a business/financial article right? Well, to be honest, capitalists are more interested in money than environmentalism…

These revelations are simply not reaching the right audience. I think its fair to say if anything is going to be achieved these stories need to be read. The reason why I am dwelling on this under-representation is that there seems to be an overriding disinterest in carbon impacts. I believe a selective ignorance and a feeling of hopelessness has developed in regards to the relationship between flights and carbon emissions. We all know planes have massive CO2 impacts but we just choose to ignore it. We are not interested in it so the papers will not publish it. This has resulted in a relaxation of pressure placed on airlines challenging them to do anything about it. This feeling of hopelessness seemed to spread and airlines managed to slip past Europe’s emissions trading scheme and stalled global efforts to charge them for their emissions until 2016.

My argument of selective ignorance and lack of pressure to force airlines to do more came up against a few criticisms with suggestions that they are already working hard on efficiency levels. Airlines have managed to convince us that ‘efficiency is what airlines do, it is within their interest’ and ‘fuel is one of the airlines main cost, they are already working hard to improve efficiency’. However, I think this article demonstrates, with an efficiency difference of 51% that some airlines are really dragging their heels. Airlines can do more and should do more! Before for the Paris climate talks we need to wake up, smell the fumes and shake off this feeling of hopelessness, otherwise, it could be too late…

2 thoughts on “Airlines Efficiency Lie

  1. Good information Saul. The report concludes that the reasons for the difference in efficiencies is mainly down to seat configuration and aircraft efficiency. It has been said lots of times but I’m not sure how many people get it; travelling in Premium, Business or First Class uses much more fuel. There is a massive PR spin that says travelling frugally is somehow bad and calling exponents ‘hair shirt travellers’ that travel ‘cattle class’. In fact taking up less space in an aircraft, train or hotel consumes much less resources. It’s not too big an ask to give up some comfort prevent further harm to people all over the world losing their homes and crops to the effects of climate change. Who in the travel industry is taking a lead on this? It’s a shock to many that Aeroflot runs a more efficient trans Atlantic operation than British Airways, but when you look at the emphasis on Premium seating in BA it all becomes clear. .
    This is a complex issue as the low cost carriers run very carbon efficient airlines, but due to the Jevons Paradox their contribution to global warming is rising rapidly.


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