Effect of Low Cost Airlines to Climate Change and the Tourism Industry

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Within the tourism industry, air travel is currently a vital element. Despite the real or perceived threats of global warming, the increase in global flights is growing annually. With air travel at its highest levels to date, in no small part due to the success of LCAs, the threat of carbon emissions on global warming appears greater than ever. This essay will position the current arguments of interested parties, then describe how LCAs and the increase in mass tourism have affected destinations and conclude with the most appropriate actions required to reduce carbon emissions.

The first issues to cover are the current views of LCAs, full service airlines, environmental lobby groups and the UK Government policy.

Low Cost Airlines have been sceptical of the criticism given to the industry suggesting that aviation is a major cause of climate change. For example, Easyjet, in 2006, described the view that global flights are adversely affecting the environment as “hysterical persecution” (Cheapflights, 2006). Andy Harrison, Chief Executive of Easyjet also added that the European Commission’s own information on aviation impact shows that “too much of the debate has been based upon inaccurate and one-sided information”.

More recently Easyjet have stated on their website that despite aviation causing only 1.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, they “still take their responsibility very seriously” (Easyjet, 2006) with a number of examples of how the company is helping to protect the environment including newer, more environmentally friendly planes and offering carbon offsetting.

The previous Environment Minister Ian Pearson described Ryanair as the “irresponsible face of capitalism” (Cheapflights, 2007) after the company opposed plans to include airlines in an EU carbon trading scheme whereby CO2 emissions are to be cut by 60% by 2050. Ryanair chief executive, Michael O’Leary retaliated saying the Environment Minister “didn’t have a clue what he was talking about” and again quoted the 1.6% greenhouse gas emissions statistic used by Easyjet. Ryanair also considers itself to be the greenest airline in Europe stating on their website that they have spent $17 billion in the last eight years on new aircrafts which has reduced fuel consumption by 45% and noise and CO2 emissions by 50% (Ryanair, 2006). However, the company also states that it is against any form of environmental taxation as it believes such measures to have repeatedly failed to decrease demand and cited the example of car taxation to show how it has not stopped increases in that sector.

Clearly the LCA sector believes there is an unfair attitude towards the aviation industry and have actively voiced this. A question to consider is whether this is their attempt to maintain passenger flight numbers by opposing and/or questioning the validity of the scientific assumptions being presented or their belief that the facts are being manipulated to make airlines appear less environmentally friendly than they actually are. Either way they are not currently experiencing any drop in revenue with Easyjet experiencing a 48% pre-tax profit increase over the past year and passenger numbers rising 13% to 37.2 million. (Businessworld, 2007).

However Gossling and Peeters (2007a) in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism argue against the main views taken by airlines, dismantling each argument one by one. The airlines’ contention that they are energy efficient and contribute only a small amount to global emissions is the first to be dissected. One of the main arguments Gossling and Peeters use is that “Airlines seem to frequently use relative measures for comparison, such as emissions per seat kilometre, which obscures the fact that total fuel use is high when distance is taken into account” (Gossling and Peeters, 2007a). They illustrate this by stating “the average fuel use per passenger for an 11,000 km one-way flight corresponds to a Dutch citizen’s annual average...
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