It is difficult when planes are coming over your home every few minutes to think about the benefits of aviation.
It is hard if you are passionate about the impact of climate change on the poor communities in Africa to believe that the growth in aviation may help them prosper.
But there are significant benefits to the growth of aviation worldwide. The aviation industry has an important role to play in improving connectivity between nations. This improved connectivity facilitates trade which in turn helps create prosperity. And historically, it has been trade which has played a key role in opening up closed societies, breaking down taboos and increasingly individual freedom. For more on this: http://www.airportwatcheurope.com/?p=411
The challenge is to find a way in which the industry grows in a responsible way. It would be a tragedy if it were not to grow in the emerging economies and in the poorer countries of the world. It can help open up their trade routes and give their peoples the chance to visit other countries and different other cultures.
At most, only 10% of the world’s population has ever flown. It is very hard to see how the other 90% of people can fly in the same way that the 10% do today without climate change emissions going way above danger levels and the noise around many of the world’s airports becoming intolerable.
There are progressive forces within aviation who understand the industry has to meet this challenge. Groups such as Sustainable Aviation in the UK http://www.sustainableaviation.co.uk/ have produced ‘route maps’ to try and meet the challenge. To reduce aviation’s emissions they rely on improved technology and better operational practices. To cut noise they promote quieter planes, better operational practices and more respite.
All this is welcome. But their plans may not be enough. No industry is going to want to be taxed more heavily. But it is likely that the aviation industry will need to face up the fact that more taxes may be required if its growth is to be kept within acceptable climate change and noise limits.
And it is possible that the extra taxes could be imposed without hurting most people who want to fly. It is thought that in the majority of countries in the rich world, where most of the flying currently takes place, most people take a maximum of one flight per year. In the UK, for example, 15% of the population take 75% of the flights. These are most short distance flights.
Some UK campaigners are talking about a tax called A Frequent Flyers Levy. Every person would be allowed one tax-free return flight each year. Then, with each subsequent flight take, the tax paid would rise. More details can be found here: http://afreeride.org/
Alternative taxes are possible. There could, for example, be a carbon tax or a tax on aviation fuel. There would be merit in the proceeds from any tax being ploughed into research and development to create even more advanced technology to produce cleaner and quieter planes.
Technology has a habit of surprising us. It may yet allow aviation to develop without fiscal measures being introduce to restrain demand. At the moment, though, that doesn’t look possible.
The responsible growth of aviation is likely to require investment in new technology, improved operational practices as well as a fair tax system to manage demand.