Flying the flag for aviation

The aviation industry has brought myriad benefits in connecting people, boosting trade and developing new technology - let’s not demonise it, says Caroline Nagtegaal.
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By Caroline Nagtegaal

11 Dec 2019

I am not ashamed of flying. For me, the aviation industry represents the very best of the Western way of life that I love so dearly, yet is coming under increasing pressure every day.

First of all, the technological advances and breakthroughs that have resulted from a competitive aviation industry are astounding and the benefits have resonated far beyond the boundaries of the sector itself.

Furthermore, aviation has brought about a huge increase in the volume and speed of the transportation of goods. It has connected more places and regions to the global economy than anyone could ever have conceived when the Wright brothers first flew.


Most importantly, it has connected the people and cultures of the world in a way that still is hard to grasp. The decrease in violence and armed conflict is directly correlated with the surge in global trade and travel. The aviation industry is as deeply and profoundly intertwined with the European ideal as any other industry is.

Here in Europe, we have recognised - after centuries of warfare - that the only way to defeat violence and to achieve peace is to get to know each other, to see each other as humans rather than abstract ideas, and to work towards common goals.

Nothing else has helped make this a greater reality than the aviation industry. Nothing else has made it possible for our people to travel to the other end of the world at affordable prices. So, if anything, I thank you, aviation.

However, we still have some work to do; we all know this too well. The world is transitioning towards sustainability and aviation has proven to be a popular target for condemnation. I find that a little simplistic, if not somewhat cheap.

"The world is transitioning towards sustainability and aviation has proven to be a popular target for condemnation. I find that a little simplistic, if not somewhat cheap"

In fact, the aviation industry has been at the forefront of technological development since its very inception, and I have no doubt that it will lead to further technological development in the era of sustainability.

There are already plenty of examples for those who are willing to see them. I would rather that activist politicians take a look at themselves. There are many areas where you need the EU to take decisive action.

First, the Single European Sky (SES); in my view, there is no better example of what the European Union is here for. And sadly, there is also no better example of how the European Union can get stuck in the mud.

Although some progress has been made in the last two decades, there has not been nearly enough. It is my firm ambition to use the race to sustainability to build new momentum for SES-2+.

You can count on me to tell my colleagues the truth when they attack you for not doing enough; it is the EU itself that needs to do more; to unify the airspace and enable the airlines to make vast efficiency gains.

SES alone can reduce CO2 emissions by 10 percent. A study by A4E has shown that in 2015-17, avoidable inefficiencies led to additional CO2 emissions - equal to 60,000 intra-European flights.

"The world is transitioning towards sustainability and aviation has proven to be a popular target for condemnation. I find that a little easy, if not somewhat cheap"

Instead, my colleagues and a number of national governments are contemplating slapping new taxes on the industry. A majority is gearing up to introduce a ticket tax, and it is unlikely that we will be able to take that o the table completely.

What I want to do, however, is look for ways to make it of some use. We all know that such measures will not discourage flying; it will only increase tax revenue for governments.

If my colleagues insist on a ticket tax for ideological reasons, then let’s make sure the revenue flows back to the aviation industry; for example, through research investments in innovations such as synthetic gas and advanced composites. The same applies to a kerosene tax.

With the Chicago Treaty of 1944, international transport was exempted from fuel tax because international contact had to be encouraged in order to prevent another world war - sound geopolitical reasoning.

If we discuss a kerosene tax now, we will also have to consider the strategic implications of this. We have to think about not only sustainability but also trade, international relations and competition. Our airlines and hubs do not compete locally, or regionally, or on a European scale. They compete globally.

Therefore, a kerosene tax is only acceptable through a new global treaty. In simple terms; until SES is completed and until politicians finally deliver, we should not, and will not, push European aviation off the cliff. Let’s work on that. I am ready to take off together with all of you.

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