EasyJet launched 12 new domestic UK flying routes on Thursday, a decision criticised by green campaigners as likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions.
The airline said the routes, which will include Birmingham to Newquay for GBP22.99 – less than 200 miles – as well as Liverpool to Bournemouth at GBP22.99 and Manchester to Edinburgh at GBP30.00, as well as to Belfast and the Channel Islands, were in response to passenger demand following restrictions on travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the new routes were served by other airlines, including Stobart Air, which recently went bust.
Most of them are viable by train, but rail operators charge far higher prices. The government is to make reductions in air passenger duty on domestic flights, which will make flying even cheaper compared with train journeys.
The UK government’s stance is in sharp contrast with France, which is banning flights where a train journey is available that takes less than 2.5 hours.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the move showed that the government was not taking seriously its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68% by 2030, and 78% by 2035, which have been key commitments in the runup to the Cop26 UN climate talks in Glasgow this November.
He said: “Domestic flights have long been a symbol of how our economic system incentivises our own destruction. Companies like easyJet claim to take sustainability seriously, but their announcement of 12 new domestic routes shows they will not prioritise our planet’s health over their profits until they are forced to do so by law. The UK government claims to be a climate leader but is considering lowering taxes on domestic flights despite them being cheaper than train fares on many routes. What will it take to make ministers understand that you can’t hit carbon reduction targets without carbon reduction policies?”
Campaigners have warned that a series of recent actions by the government appear to undermine the UK’s green commitments ahead of Cop26, including a proposed new coalmine in Cumbria, the scrapping of the green homes grant insulation programme, slashing the incentives for electric cars, and the cutting of overseas aid, which experts said undermined the UK’s credibility at the G7 summit, where climate was a major issue.
An easyJet spokesperson said: “The new routes which will operate this summer have been introduced in response to the demand we’re seeing for domestic air travel in the UK and as with all our flights, we offset all of the carbon emissions from the fuel used for them.”
She said the company was also using more efficient aircraft and “supporting the development of radical new technologies to achieve zero-emission flying in the future, which we are committed to transitioning to as soon as they are available”.
Such technologies are likely to be decades away, however, and green campaigners point out that carbon output in the next 10 years will be crucial. Scientists calculate that the world must halve carbon emissions by 2030 to have a chance of staying below 1.5C of global heating.
EasyJet has been one of the biggest beneficiaries from the government’s cash schemes to keep companies afloat during the pandemic, drawing on loans of about GBP2bn from the public purse. Ministers refused to place “green strings” on the cash to ensure recipients met environmental targets, as some other governments have done.
Sauven said: “The pandemic has put the UK government firmly in charge of the aviation industry, as it now needs huge amounts of public money to survive. They have decided to rebuild the failed high-carbon, frequent flyer model at our expense without imposing any conditions on the airlines that might make them slightly less environmentally costly. Support for unnecessarily polluting airlines will further undermine our credibility at the climate summit in Glasgow.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Through Great British Railways, this government is reforming trains to make them truly passenger-focused, and to win people’s trust and confidence. Through our ambitious reforms, including new flexible season tickets and contracts focused on excellent customer service and punctual, reliable services, we’re committed to bringing people back to the UK’s rail network.”