[WSMDiscuss] against unconditional bailouts of aviation industry
ulrich.brand at univie.ac.at
Thu Apr 23 08:15:41 CEST 2020
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
/Wiener Zeitung, 15 April 2020///
Let's Use the Current Opportunity to Develop a Climate-Friendly
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
(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
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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