Early adoption of policies to reduce flights would give us the best chance of transforming the industry.
Investment in reducing emissions from aviation and expanding green transport in the UK would create hundreds of thousands more jobs and cost less than the support given to the industry during the covid crisis, according to a new report from climate charity Possible and employment think tank Autonomy.
An annual cost of £9.5bn would allow investment in technological developments to reduce emissions from aviation, along with an expansion in the rail network to allow people to travel without flying.
A move to rail, low-emissions ferries, domestic tourism, aviation research and development and cleaner fuels generated from electricity to reduce emissions from flights could create a net increase of between 280,000 and 340,000 jobs.
Despite receiving a £12bn bailout, including £750m from the Covid Jobs Retention Scheme, the aviation industry cut more than 46,000 jobs during the pandemic.
The report calls on the UK Government to stop giving taxpayer-backed handouts to the industry, and instead put in place policies to reduce flights to protect the climate and start creating environmentally sustainable jobs for the future, given the aviation industry’s poor record on protecting jobs as well as increasing emissions.
A new survey of more than 1,000 people working in aviation also included in the report found that just 21 percent of respondents thought that the industry offered them secure employment for the future.
Possible is also calling for a “right to retrain” scheme to support people working in aviation who would like to move into lower-carbon sectors, and a frequent flyer levy to fairly reduce demand for flights while raising funds to invest in low-carbon transport.
Alethea Warrington, campaigner at climate charity Possible, said: “The government’s refusal to bring in sensible, popular policies to reduce demand for flights threatens the UK’s vital climate targets.
"With just 15 percent of people taking 70 percent of all our flights, we could protect the climate and cut aviation emissions by reducing frequent flying, with little impact on most people’s travel. As our research shows, ambitious policies to reduce demand for flights and ensure people can travel by train could help create the good, green jobs the UK needs."
Kyle Lewis, Co-Director of Autonomy, said: “The science on climate change makes it very clear that we have to reduce the number of flights we take in the UK. This study shows that reining in the aviation industry would actually have a positive impact on jobs and would help with the transition to a low-carbon economy.
"The government must rethink their disastrous tax reduction for domestic flights and urgently come forward with new plans that would reduce passenger numbers, not increase them.”
Finlay Asher, former airline engine designer turned climate campaigner with Safe Landing, said: “I’m worried about the economic risk to workers' livelihoods if our industry continues to plan for a massive growth in flights, which then fails to materialise - leading to another major industry crash.
"As I’ve spent my career designing future aircraft propulsion systems, I know first-hand that technology alone won’t reduce aviation emissions – certainly not on the timescales necessary to maintain a habitable planet.
"Early adoption of policies to reduce flights would give us the best chance of transforming the industry. This will be good for business sustainability, and ultimately for aviation workers’ jobs.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.