A common claim by climate change activists is that technological innovation and increased use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) won’t be enough to get to net zero
They say that the only way to curb carbon emissions from aviation is to suppress demand and cap flights.
Indeed, as we showed in a recent newsletter, for some it goes as far as wanting airline advertising treated in the same way as tobacco or alcohol advertising, with appropriate warnings.
Now in a possible sign of things to come, the Dutch Government has decided to cap flights from Amsterdam Schiphol for noise and environmental reasons, in particular NOx emissions – nitrogen oxides.
According to the Queensland Govt (Australia), “elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide can cause damage to the human respiratory tract and increase a person’s vulnerability to, and the severity of, respiratory infections and asthma. Long-term exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide can cause chronic lung disease.”
As a result, flights to and from AMS will be limited to 440,000 a year from November 2023, 11% below the level of 2019 and 20% under the capacity set by the previous government.
Not surprisingly, IATA is not happy and director general Willie Walsh had this to say about it:
“We are seeing a throttling of air connectivity, which has been steadily built up for 100 years and supported large parts of the Dutch economy and the aspirations of millions of Dutch travellers.”
IATA also says that NOx emissions from aircraft account for only about 1% of total NOx deposition in the Netherlands, and put forward suggestions for altered flight paths to reduce aircraft noise.
The Netherlands is obviously one of the countries where the climate change movement is strongest.
For instance, KLM has run ad campaigns touting its green credentials, and has then promptly been taken to court by campaigners for so-called greenwashing.
However, this could be a signal of what’s in store. It could also suggest initiatives such as frequent flyer taxes or levies are moving up the agenda
Here is why:
1 – Most people are not frequent flyers, and it will seem reasonable to some that those who fly more should pay for polluting more
2 – Noise and climate change activists are good at shifting public opinion in communities near airports, and with them their political representatives. One example is the way most West London MPs in the UK are regularly against Heathrow expansion.
3 – The pandemic showed us that Governments won’t hesitate to slap restrictions on international air travel if they need to show some quick wins, and that the public response will be relatively muted. Again, coming back to the first point, most people are not frequent flyers.
4 – In fact, even during the current disruptions at airports across Europe, Governments have been quite slow to act, however, negative publicity about ruined Summer holidays is prompting some movement.
The industry needs to go on the offensive
So what’s to be done about it?
Of course, showing that airlines are serious about sustainability is one part of the equation, and a recent report by the ICCT was encouraging, saying that it would be possible for the industry to meet its targets – albeit at a cost.
However, as we said as far back as December 2019 in our ‘Flight Shaming’ special report, there also needs to be a renewed focus in reminding people that aviation has made the world a smaller place.
That aviation is not just about suits clocking up their status points in lounges, but instead that aviation is a force for good in areas as diverse as medicine, cultural and academic exchanges, and family reunions.
IATA has in the past run a campaign headlined the ‘business of freedom’.
We’d suggest perhaps removing the word ‘business’ but using some of the themes in the video above and bringing out real human interest stories of people whose lives have been changed for the better by aviation.
This then should run in tandem with environmental campaigns showing that the industry is serious about net zero, with concrete proof to show that the road-map is not ‘greenwashing.’