Campaign group takes on aviation industry

Magdalena Heuwieser, one of the coordinators of new campaign network Stay Grounded, discusses the launch of the group’s 13-step plan to counter the growth of the aviation industry and promote alternatives to air travel.

Planes waiting on the runway
Planes waiting on the runway
Magdalena Heuwieser

Travelling the world or making weekend trips to far away destinations has become normality – at least for some of the world. Even environmentally conscious people usually fly; in Germany, one study found that voters of the Green Party actually flew the most of all respondents.

But air travel happens at the expense of others: those that are or will be most affected from the rising climate crisis, as well as those affected by eviction or noise due to the massive expansion of airport infrastructure. 1200 airport projects are currently planned or under construction.

A new network called Stay Grounded has now been set up to draw attention to aviation and to question the still unchallenged power and privilege of one of the dirtiest industries in the world. During the first two weeks of October, Stay Grounded is coordinating direct actions and events around the world – from Mexico to the UK, from Australia to Austria. On Wednesday (3 October), for instance, activists intervened in the opening speech by EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc at the European Aviation Summit in Vienna, protesting against the planned growth of European aviation.

Supported by about 120 civil society organisations, including Friends of the Earth International, the network has published a position paper outlining 13 steps for a transition towards a transport system that is more socially just and ecologically sustainable.

The launch of the position paper and the Stay Grounded protests come just in time: At the end of October, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will decide on its climate strategy, CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation).

CORSIA proclaims the goal to achieve ‘carbon neutral growth’ after 2020 by buying cheap and ineffective carbon credits from offset projects in the Global South. These supposedly ‘green’ projects have a record of fuelling land grabbing and human rights violations.

“Instead of assuming responsibility for the harmful impact of its reckless growth path, the industry is trying to buy its way out at the expense of vulnerable populations who are at risk of losing their livelihoods due to these offsetting projects”, Mira Kapfinger, one of the coordinators of Stay Grounded, explains.

The beginnings of the Stay Grounded network date back to 2016, when the first coordinated action weeks took place during the ICAO conference in which the CORSIA agreement was decided. The network takes a stance against the problematic greenwashing strategies employed by politics and industry, who pretend that ‘green aviation’ will be possible through cheap offsets, biofuels and technologies that are not yet developed. Our study, ‘The Illusion of Green Flying’, investigates those strategies and shows how they are used as a diversion tactic to block any effective regulation of the sector.

Just recently, the aviation industry has been trying to lobby EU officials to abolish existing regulation of aviation emissions, like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and ticket taxes, by pointing to an alleged overlap with CORSIA.

Stay Grounded instead fosters effective solutions to the climate crisis and rising aviation emissions. Kapfinger states: “For decades, the aviation industry has enjoyed many privileges. For example, flight tickets and kerosene still remain untaxed, in contrast to car fuel or train tickets. Now is the time to wake up. Rather than fueling further expansion, air traffic urgently needs to be controlled and reduced, before we get locked in to their unaffordable emissions”.

Until now, the power of the aviation industry and the myth of technological solutions for the climate crisis have remained almost unchallenged. The aim of Stay Grounded is to build civil society pressure at a local as well as international level, in order to stop airport expansion and introduce a cap for aviation and its emissions.

The network serves as a resource for information and experience-sharing for NGOs, critical trade unionists, scientists, climate justice activists and local initiatives that counter airport projects, as well as groups fostering alternatives like night trains. Organisations can sign up for membership or simply support the position paper. In the future, joint strategic campaigns are planned.