Save people not planes

“Bailouts must not allow the aviation sector to return to business as usual after Covid-19 has been defeated”. An open letter coordinated by Stay Grounded calls for governments around the world to prioritise people and climate over the aviation industry after the Covid-19 crisis.

Planes waiting on the runway
Planes waiting on the runway
Olivia Rutherford

An open letter endorsed by over 250 organisations from 25 countries was published yesterday (6 April) demanding that the protection for workers and a transition towards climate-just mobility are prioritized over aviation industry bailouts. 

The letter, titled #Savepeoplenotplanes Red Lines for Aviation Bailouts and coordinated by Stay Grounded, has attracted immediate support, with over 26,000 signatories signing an online petition since its launch yesterday.

The letter urges states that business as usual should not be resumed once the Covid-19 crisis has passed. It considers the aviation industry’s contribution to climate heating citing a paper published by researchers from the German Environment Agency Umweltbundesamt who claim aviation is responsible for 5-8 per cent of climate heating globally. 

In the UK, aviation accounts for seven per cent of the UK’s annual greenhouse emissions and is set to become the largest source of emissions by 2050.

The letter demands that governments:

  1. Put people first and bail out workers, not shareholders and executives;

  2. Transform the transport sector in a climate-friendly way, by cutting air travel demand and strengthening low-carbon alternatives like rail travel, as well as by shifting of employment into decent climate jobs; and

  3. End aviation’s tax exemptions while putting in place a kerosene tax and fair progressive levies on frequent flying.

Magdalena Heuwieser from Stay Grounded, a global network of more than 150 organisations, who endorsed the letter together in collaboration with other organisations, commented: “For decades, the aviation industry has avoided contributing meaningfully to global climate goals and resisted the merest suggestion of taxes on fuel or tickets. Now, airlines, airports and manufacturers are demanding huge and unconditional taxpayer-backed bailouts. We cannot let the aviation industry get away with privatising profits in the good times, and expect the public to pay for its losses in the bad times.”

Tahir Latif, President of the Public Communication Services (PCS) trade union Aviation Group, which represents workers in the aviation sector, added: “The collapse of the aviation industry has left workers feeling vulnerable and insecure about their future. PCS and other trade unions are demanding that financial, labour and health protections are directed to aid workers. A real living basic income to enable workers to see through the crisis has to be prioritised above corporate bailouts. We demand public ownership of our transport systems to enable a more humane and coherent response in the case of any similar crisis in the future, and to commence right now the task of planning the just transition of workers to jobs geared toward dealing the impact of transport, particularly aviation, on climate change.”

There has been concerted action against the aviation industry in recent times, with several high-profile successes. In February this year, the court of appeal ruled the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport’s third runway illegal and breaking Britain’s climate commitments. Meanwhile, Bristol Airport’s expansion plans were also rejected in the same month after local councillors responded to public concerns over health and the environment, voting against the scheme.