By Chris Lang
An open letter signed by more than 250 organisations from 25 countries urges governments to resist the aviation lobby’s attempts to put in place unfair bailouts for the industry.
The letter makes three demands on governments:
1. put people first and bail out workers, not shareholders and executives;
2. transform the transport sector in a climate-friendly way, by cutting air travel demand and strengthening low-carbon alternatives like rail travel, as well as by shifting of employment into decent climate jobs; and
3. end aviation’s tax exemptions while putting in place a kerosene tax and fair progressive levies on frequent flying.
In a press release, Magdalena Heuwieser of Stay Grounded, a global network of more than 150 organisations, says,
“For decades, the aviation industry has avoided contributing meaningfully to global climate goals and resisted the merest suggestion of taxes on fuel or tickets. Now, airlines, airports and manufacturers are demanding huge and unconditional taxpayer-backed bailouts. We cannot let the aviation industry get away with privatising profits in the good times, and expect the public to pay for its losses in the bad times.”
Stay Grounded has also created a petition for individuals to sign on to:
The press release also includes a quotation from Tahir Latif of the UK trade union PCS:
“The collapse of the aviation industry has left workers feeling vulnerable and insecure about their future. PCS and other trade unions are demanding that financial, labour and health protections are directed to aid workers. A real living basic income to enable workers to see through the crisis has to be prioritised above corporate bailouts. We demand public ownership of our transport systems to enable a more humane and coherent response in the case of any similar crisis in the future, and to commence right now the task of planning the just transition of workers to jobs geared toward dealing the impact of transport, particularly aviation, on climate change.”
Here’s the International Open Letter to the Respective Governments (also available here with a full list of signatories):
Red Lines for Aviation Bailouts
In the middle of the ongoing Corona crisis, while the world struggles against the virus and countless workers are losing their incomes, the aviation industry is demanding huge and unconditional taxpayer-backed bailouts. Yet, in recent years, the industry strongly opposed any attempts to end its unfair tax exemptions and refused to contribute meaningfully to global emission reduction goals – which would require measures to signifi cantly reduce the scale of aviation.
Not only is aviation already responsible for 5–8% of global climate impact, mostly caused by a wealthy minority of frequent fl yers, but the sector also assumes that it can continue growing. Enormous profi ts were made in the last decades, off the backs of low-paid workers and to the detriment of the climate.
Workers affected by the current crisis need support, but we shouldn’t let the aviation industry get away with privatising profi t while the public pays for its losses. Without addressing the structural problems that have left our societies and economies so vulnerable to crises like this one, we will be even more vulnerable to the next ones as inequalities between and within countries continue to grow and the ecological and climate emergencies worsen.
Bailouts must not allow the aviation sector to return to business as usual after Covid-19 has been defeated: any public money has to ensure that workers and the climate are put first.
1. PEOPLE FIRST
Instead of bailing-out executives and shareholders, any fi nancial assistance should make sure that workers are supported with strong labour and health protections, and a real living basic income during the crisis is provided for flight attendants, pilots, ground-staff, caterers and other impacted workers.
2. A JUST TRANSITION: TOWARDS CLIMATE-SAFE MOBILITY
A condition for public support must be that the aviation industry aligns with a 1.5 °C trajectory. The emission reductions must be absolute and not employ dubious accounting mechanisms, such as offsets, nor rely on biofuels that harm the environment, food security and land rights. Since “green flying” is an illusion, air travel must be reduced. For a just recovery, democratic decision-making and public ownership are decisive. Governments must support a just transition: system-wide changes to transport networks, ensuring access to affordable alternatives (such as rail travel) and enabling workers to move away from fossil-fuel dependent jobs and into decent climate jobs.
3. NO TAXES? NO BAILOUTS!
It is not fair to save the aviation industry with taxpayers’ money if it pays almost no taxes, giving it an unfair advantage over lower emission modes of transport. Tax exemptions therefore must be stopped: airlines must be obliged to pay a tax on kerosene; and instead of Air Miles programmes which incentivise air travel, fair and progressive levies on frequent fl ying must be put in place.
It is important to use the current unintended pause in aviation for building a climate-safe transport sector and creating resilience for future crises.