[WSMDiscuss] against unconditional bailouts of aviation industry

Ulrich Brand ulrich.brand at univie.ac.at
Thu Apr 23 08:15:41 CEST 2020

Dear colleagues,

I send you the English version of a text in a public controvery with the 
chief lobbyist of the Austrian industry concerning the bailout of 
Austrian Airlines.

Best wishes,

Ulrich Brand


/Wiener Zeitung, 15 April 2020///

Let's Use the Current Opportunity to Develop a Climate-Friendly 
Transport System

By Heinz Högelsberger & Ulrich Brand

Two transport policy topics were discussed the most over the last few 
days: On the one hand, how more space for movement can be secured for 
pedestrians during Covid-19 times; on the other hand, whether Austrian 
Airlines should be bailed out using taxpayer’ money. These questions 
have a deeply social component: Walking is the preferred mode of 
locomotion for poor people. But just in Vienna alone, 38 percent of 
sidewalks are narrower than two meters. /Social distancing/ is 
impossible on all these sidewalks. By contrast, flying is a domain of 
the rich that damages the climate. This, in addition to climate policy 
considerations, makes it problematic if airlines are supported 
unconditionally with taxpayer money in the hundreds of millions of Euros.

Which social groups fly how often has been recorded in detail in Great 
Britain for decades: While the poorer half of the population on average 
accounts for half a flight per year, the frequency increases with income 
and for the richest five percent is at more than 3.5 flights. For many 
years, just barely a majority of Brits consistently negates the 
question: “Did you fly last year?” The rising market share of low-cost 
airlines thus did not “democratize” air travel, as has been argued 
frequently. Economical ticket prices simply cause /frequent flyers/ to 
sit in an airplane even more often. In general, the richest tenth of all 
British households causes three times as much in greenhouse gas 
emissions as the poorest tenth. But when only transport emissions are 
taken into account, the factor increases to between 7 and 8. A similar 
picture emerges in Austria: In general, the household expenses of the 
richest tenth of the population are two and half times above those of 
the poorest tenth. In terms of the cost of vacations, this shear is 
increased to five-and-a-half-fold! The frequency of travel and the 
tendency to fly increase with income and educational level. A poll by 
VCÖ [Transport Club Austria] from 2017 also confirms the British data 
for Austria: According to the poll, a third of the population never 
flies. Half fly once a year or less, while only a sixth sits in an 
airplane several times a year.

Ecological aspects are added to these social ones to explain why strict 
conditions should be attached to support for the airline industry. That 
is sobecause the current crisis of the airline industry should be 
understood as an opportunity for climate policy, that is, for an 
urgently needed structural change towards climate-friendly mobility.

According to forecasts, the proportion of CO_2 emissions due to airline 
travel is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years, 
unless political countermeasures are taken.Short-haul flights are a 
disaster in terms of climate policy. An airplane emits about forty times 
more greenhouse gases per passenger than an ÖBB [Austrian Federal 
Railways] train on the same route, according to calculations by the 
Umweltbundesamt [Environment Agency Austria[JU1] <#_msocom_1>].

The future of the airline industry must be clearly linked to alignment 
with the 1.5-degree goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to which 
Austria committed, as well.

This would also be consistent with the European Green Deal, which the 
new president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, proposed last 
December. According to that deal, greenhouse gas emissions by the 
transport sector are to be reduced by 90 percent by 2050. Here air 
travel, at almost 15 percent of emissions across Europe, plays a central 
role. To accomplish that goal, the entire European transport system must 
be structured in a more environmentally friendly manner.

This means for the current discussions: Public funding for the airline 
industry in connection with the Corona crisis should be linked to 
specific conditions.

(1) In return for supporting AUA [Austrian Airlines], the republic [of 
Austria] should receive a blocking minority of shares; this would, for 
one, ensure a desirable business policy in terms of social and climate 
policy and, for the other, let the republic benefit from future profits. 
The state and other stakeholders should develop joint strategies for the 
planned dismantling of airline companies and/or promote their conversion 
to transport service providers.

(2) Unbridled liberalization in the airline industry leads to ruinous 
competition with many losers: The airlines are left with low margins, 
and are forced to save. For passengers this means worse service, for 
employees, worse working conditions. The latter, in particular, must be 
improved again, because social dumping is currently the lay of the land 
in the airline industry. Ryanair (= Laudamotion [Austrian low-cost 
airline]) is a particularly frightening example of this.An aid package 
must also be used to secure or improve affected employees’ income. Thus, 
the time of low-cost airlines would be over for good.

(3) At the same time, the extensive tax-exemptions in airline travel 
should be removed. According to WIFO [Austrian Institute for Economic 
Research], the Austrian state loses half a billion Euros a year as a 
result. An appreciable increase of the airplane ticket fee and 
introduction of a kerosene tax would be first steps in that direction.

(4) Already immediately after the Corona crisis, short-haul flights on 
routes where good train connections already exist should not be allowed 
to be offered. Three of the four destinations from Wien-Schwechat 
airport [Vienna airport] with the most passengers – that is, Frankfurt, 
Berlin, and Zürich – can already now be reached with several direct 
trains a day. In the medium term, flights within Europe must also be 
significantly reduced and at the same time massive investments in the 
European train network must be made.

(5) The Corona crisis offers a unique opportunity to rethink how things 
are done in society.If we act responsibly now and employees are offered 
climate-friendly workplaces, we can achieve the necessary reduction in 
airplane travel. Re-trainings could already start during the current 
lock-down situation.

The political goal must be a climate-friendly transport sector. To 
achieve this, a drastic reduction of airplane travel in Europe and 
across the world is necessary. However, this does not limit the freedom 
to travel, but only the “/license to destroy the climate/” that a small 
group of people who fly a lot believes it has.

The point is to create a way of economic activity and living in which 
not so many goods are flown around the globe, businesspeople don’t jet 
around so much and the weekend trip from Vienna to Barcelona with a 
low-cost airline is no longer possible. Even the lobbyists for the 
airline industry must understand this.

Dr. Heinz Högelsberger and Univ.-Prof. UlrichBrand currently work on a 
research project about the role of employees and trade unions in 
social-ecological restructuring which is funded by the Austrian climate 
and energy fund.


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