Green party

Whose freedom?

14 January 2002

Big business interests launching their so-called "Freedom to Fly" campaign have hit heavy flak from the Green Party for the campaign's "utterly irresponsible" attitude.

Business leaders including the CBI and Virgin Atlantic chose to launch their campaign for massive expansion of the aviation industry on the same day that Green peer Lord Beaumont would tell the House of Lords about the colossal tax breaks and hidden costs of the aviation sector, and its major contribution to climate change.

While Virgin chair Richard Branson was telling journalists that "People want the freedom to fly," the Green Party was pointing out what this "freedom" means.

Big tax breaks. Huge hidden costs.

Margaret Wright, the party's Principal Speaker, said: "UK aviation benefits from about £6 billion worth of tax breaks every year. Its hidden costs represent a burden of around £4 billion on the economy. And air tourism represents a net drain on the UK balance of payments of over £3 billion a year."

She continued: "Some freedoms are relative. When an activity causes widespread negative impacts, then we as a society need to act responsibly."

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Four new Heathrows? What about climate change?

The Greens argue that the growth demanded by Virgin and its allies is "straight from cloud cuckoo land." Margaret Wright continued: "The growth they want would require the equivalent of 4 new airports the size of Heathrow in a period of 25 years - with growth by 2020 equivalent to a new Gatwick every two years.

"This is unacceptable in terms of impacts on local people, and much worse in terms of climate change."

The Greens reiterated the facts about aviation growth:

  • Aviation's CO2 emissions could show an increase of about 600% between 1990 and 2050, and its NOx pollution by well over 400% - unless governments change tack now.
  • UK aviation's external costs - the bill for dealing with air and noise pollution, the health impacts and the bill for climate change-related damage - represent a drain of about £4 billion a year on the economy.
  • The aviation industry wants UK air passenger numbers to increase from 130 million in 1995 to 400 million in 2020 - requiring the equivalent of an extra 4 airports the size of Heathrow or 12 new airports the size of Manchester. It forecasts such growth that by 2020 demand would be rising by about 15 million passengers a year - equivalent to needing a new Gatwick every 2 years.

Notes to editor:

1. Statistics here are taken from Aviation's Economic Downside by Prof John Whitelegg and Dr Spencer Fitz-Gibbon.