The Flybe saga and why it demonstrates everything I’m angry about these days

Climate change has reached incredible attention in the last 12 months thanks to Greta and Attenborough, and many other heroes. School strikes, XR and many public figures have not only been talking about it but being arrested for protesting about it… most recently Joaquin Phoenix and Martin sheen.


We even had an entire live TV debate prior to the UK general election about climate change and environmental issues. Each party pledged to do more, to plant trees and get to net zero in the next 30 years. Including Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.
Yet mere weeks after their win, one of the main headlines in the news is that Flybe needs help in the form of public money and less taxes or they’ll go bust. Flybe who are owned by Virgin and Delta, two of the biggest commercial airline players. Flybe who operate thousands of domestic flights in the UK.

Some stats:
Square miles of country:

UK – 242k square miles, of which England is 130k square miles

Germany – 138k square miles

France – 249k square miles.
Flights 2018:
UK – 272 million

Germany – 222 million

France – 162 million

T total number of passengers carried in Europe (arrivals plus departures), broken down by country
The total number of passengers carried in Europe (arrivals plus departures), broken down by country (source: ec.europa.eu/eurostat)

Rail Travel 2018:

UK – 69,706 million

Germany – 98,161 million

France – 93,387 million

Rail transport of passengers Million passenger-km
Rail transport of passengers. Million passenger-km (Source: ec.europa.eu/eurostat)

Omio (a travel website); “Domestic flights within the UK are fast and frequent, operated predominantly by budget airlines offering cheap flights, like Ryanair, easyJet and flybe. As a result, thanks to these airlines and flight comparison tools, it can sometimes be cheaper to fly than take a long-distance train journey.” (source:omio.co.uk/providers/flights)

This is the problem. This is not a positive for travel websites and airlines to be promoting.

A travel example:

Flight from Bristol to Edinburgh from £43
Train from Bristol to Edinburgh from  £59.45
Flight time 1h 10min
Train time 6h 43 min
Carbon footprint of flight 127.4 kg*
Carbon footprint of train 25.6kg*

Distance 312 miles (502 km)

(Rates above from google.com/flights, trainline.co.uk, *Results shown are indicative and are calculated using the UK Government Conversion Factors for greenhouse gas (GHG) 2019.)

Bristol to Edinburgh 312miles
Bristol to Edinburgh 312miles Carbon Calculator. http://www.lner.co.uk

Trainline has a carbon footprint calculator:

Travelling by train instead of car reduces your carbon emissions for this journey by 76.4%
Travelling by train instead of car reduces your carbon emissions for this journey by 76.4%

It’s obvious why people fly instead of taking the train. It’s not only quicker it’s cheaper!!!!

We are facing a man made global catastrophe, our planet is warming, our oceans are getting warmer, our ice caps are melting, our sea levels are rising, our deserts are getting hotter and dryer, our wetlands are getting wetter and bigger, our storms are getting bigger and more frequent. Our human population faces multiple dangers including but not limited to; food scarcity, drought, bushfires, land loss, forced migration, severe winters and summers, flooding. And there has already been severe biodiversity loss with multiple species extinctions linked to the change in climate.

The State of Nature report 2019, showed 15% of wildlife species are under threat from extinction.

The State of Nature 2016 report  showed that over half (56%) of the UK’s wild species have declined in the past 50 years and continue to do so and that more than one in ten species faces extinction.
The Flybe saga isn’t only an environmental problem. This is about public money being used to save yet another private company. The NHS is in trouble, austerity continues with public services being cut or budgets reduced yet MIRACULOUSLY our taxes can go towards saving a private company. A private company owned by Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airlines. Virgin  “reported a pre-tax loss of £26.1 million before tax”  (2018 Financial report), Deltas reported their “pre-tax income for the December quarter 2018 was $1.2 billion”.
Austerity leads to more people homeless; including children, the elderly having limited care, less police on the streets, less community offices, less doctors and nurses, less beds in hospitals, longer waiting times…. yet the government agrees to use our money so that business men and women can jet across the company 50+ a year instead of taking the train. (Of course there are individuals that this impacts but my point is that there should be other solutions on the table, not just giving Flybe a tax break, when they are owned by multi million companies!)

This is the current problem: 2k jobs would be axed if Flybe went under, but what if instead of bailing out Flybe the government used OUR money to invest in greener jobs, invested in more trains, electric trains, more efficient trains and ferries.

The Flybe saga is such a complicated problem (which is why it’s blown up in the news) and for good reason. Flights, both internal and external are a major part of the UK economy. But we have to start including the externalities in our calculations. For example if a flight really did cost what it “costs” the planet it would be so much more expensive, and people would then largely rather take the train.

We need to tax flights, not subsidise or help airlines out.

We’re saving jobs and “helping the economy” but this is such a short sighted way of doing that. We’re saving jobs for how long? Helping the economy by preventing a drop in profit or GDP does not and will not help it in the long run.

 


Economics was originally used to manage a household, so if we use an example in line with that; helping Flybe continue by lowering the cost of flights and tax it pays is like piling up firewood in your living room but not setting it alight until you’re dead so that your children have no home. To quote Greta “act like your house is on fire” our planet literally is on fire, it is warming. Fuelling one of the main causes of rising co2 (air travel) is completely ridiculous, absurd and the exact opposite of what we should be doing. It’s our taxes, it’s our money and I for one say no to this.

What can we do as Individuals?
Don’t fly domestically.
Write to your MP about this.

To be clear I’m focusing on domestic flights within the UK. Because yes, we’re an island. Follow up post about continental flights coming soon.

Finally, this is an opinion piece. My opinion. If anyone has seen evidence of any of the above being seriously considered by policy makers please share!

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