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Energy Events

Saving the airlines could cost the Earth

Your long read on the airline industry’s collapse was really quite depressing (Inside the airline industry’s meltdown, 29 September). Yes, the airlines are suffering huge losses and many jobs have been lost, but the assumption that passenger numbers will eventually return to pre-pandemic levels would be to throw away one of the only big gains from the lockdown.

Airlines pay no duty on fuel and their tickets are very cheap, but they are costing the Earth as a result. It is disingenuous to assume that biofuel will ever be available in sufficient volume or that enough trees be planted (and survive) to offset the carbon released by the air industry. There is no place in a sustainable future world for the scale of flying that had been reached prior to the pandemic.

The real cost of air travel needs to be recognised, especially by frequent flyers. Businesses will surely seek to stop wasting time and money on excessive flights to meetings when online works well. Governments need to recognise the reduced role of the air industry, and help retrain those who are losing their jobs so that they can work in sustainable industries.
Cllr Richard Robertson
Cambridge

• The biggest impact Covid will have on airlines concerns their basic business model. The concept that all businesses are improved by competitive markets isn’t true of all industries, especially those with unusually large overhead costs; complicated operations; and unusual sensitivity to external factors like energy prices, war, business cycles or weather. That pretty much defines airlines. As they now face a fundamental question over their viability, the concept of “competing” will be the first thing discarded. Airlines now need to cooperate more than ever. That cooperation may take the form of mergers; in other cases it will involve the sharing of systems, equipment and even labour.

But the most central question is whether airlines are really for-profit commercial businesses any longer. The time may have finally arrived where air travel is seen for what it really is: a basic commodity and public utility, no different than an underground or commuter train, with standardised scheduling and comfortable seating, and low, everyday flat fares. Covid may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened for airline passengers.
Matthew G Andersson
President, Indigo Aerospace, Chicago, Illinois

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