Coronavirus, climate change and aviation

By Asitha Jayawardena

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced 357 coronavirus-related daily deaths at the daily coronavirus briefing on Friday 5 June 2020. This way, 40,000 deaths have occurred sadly.

From 8 June 2020, visitors and UK nationals entering the country will have to undergo quarantine for two weeks. As part of the rules, surprise check will be undertaken and, in England, fines up to £1000 will be imposed if they avoid self-isolating.

This is a short-term measure to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Once the normality returns, how can we make the air travel more sustainable? There are several points to consider.

First, aero-planes

Reduce flights. According to current projections, the demand for travel will not recover for at least three years so the best thing to do is to reduce the number of flights initially.

Remove energy inefficient planes. Removal of planes that are not energy efficient is a high priority. Otherwise the budget airlines could hire such planes to run almost empty without a loss while maintaining a high level of carbon per passenger.

Second, fuel and technology

Tax aviation fuel. Fuel taxes in domestic flights are currently tax free. If they are taxed, as the flights for 2 hours 30 minutes or less in France for example, they will not compete with low-carbon train journeys.

Invest in green fuels and technology. In countries that bailout their airlines, the strings are tied to green incentives. For example, the French government asked Air France to use alternatives to fossil fuels for at least 2% of flights in 2024. Moreover, Norway is pioneering electric planes as well as biofuel from waste materials.

Third, the passengers

Charge frequent flier levy. In the UK, 15% of people take 70% of flights. Globally, only 3% of the world’s 7.6bn population flies frequently. Instead of asking people who fly, say once in two years, increase the ticket prices for them who happen to be airborne, say in twice a month.

Provide transparent data to customers. In a particular airline, passengers can be presented to read topics such as carbon emissions, sustainable materials, lighting, food and water – both positives and negatives.

Finally, miscellaneous

Place aviation in national climate targets. Government in the UK should include aviation emissions in the climate targets so that the climate calculations are not based on dodgy accounting. Currently, Climate Change Act only mentions aviation, which Greta Thunberg has pointed out as ‘extremely creative accounting’ in her recent visit.

Stop airport expansion. In February, campaigners against Heathrow expansion strike a victory but many other airports are in this mode.

We need air travel

‘With 90% of UK planes grounded, and knowing we need to halt polluting industries, there can be no justification for the government to financially support restarting flights,’ said Sarah Lunnon, UK spokesperson of Extinction Rebellion. ‘Let’s embed this change rather than bail out this destructive industry and its tax-avoiding owners’.

It’s true but we know that we need aviation when we have to fly between continents.

According to the International Air Transport Association, the demand for air travel will not return by at least 2023. So, we have a valuable opportunity to make aviation more sustainable.


Coronavirus: UK records more than 40,000 deaths

Coronavirus: What are the UK travel quarantine rules?

Is the Covid-19 crisis the catalyst for the greening of the world’s airlines?



  1. Another great post, Asitha.
    From 2021 onwards, all airlines are mandated to reduce their carbon footprint under CORSIA (do check this out). They can do this in two ways, 1) by using efficient fuel and efficient plans or 2) by buying carbon credits for emissions above their capped amount.

    This capped amount is based on baseline emissions in 2019/20. Once this is implemented, airline net emissions are expected to reduce.


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