Isn't it time the aviation industry sorted out its fairness problem?

We are being told we should celebrate the importance of aviation as a benevolent industry working in the 'service of all mankind', according to the UN's international aviation body (ICAO).

The theme for International Civil Aviation Day this year is: working together to ensure no country is left behind. In a year where inequality has been front and centre in international politics, ICAO is keen to reinforce claims of aviation's egalitarianism.

But what's the truth behind the claims? How fair is air travel? Let's look at Britain as an example. According to the World Bank, only the US and China carries more air passengers than the UK.

The busiest airport in Britain, Heathrow, carries more passengers than anywhere else in the world. The most interesting aspect of that statistic is not the sheer number of passengers passing through the airport, but the fact that almost three-quarters of them are travelling for leisure and disproportionately wealthy. It's a pattern mirrored across the world.

The stark reality is that 70 per cent of flights are taken by just 15 per cent of people - more than half of Brits don't fly at all. To put it another way, the wealthiest few are taking almost ten times as many flights as the average British holidaymaker.

The insidious truth is that inequality is inherent in aviation. The air travel taxation regime, which is heavily subsidised by the Government, results in those passengers who fly just once a year or those who don't fly at all bankrolling the jet-setting lifestyles of a privileged few.

The situation can be remedied, to an extent, by the introduction of a frequent flyer levy which aims to redress the tax balance. The proposals, backed by the Greens, would allow people one tax-free return flight every year. A progressive rate of tax would be charged on any subsequent flights.

The proposals have a dual purpose; they also aim to reduce the environmentally unsustainable growth of aviation. Aviation is a top-ten global polluter. At present, air travel accounts for 2% of the world's carbon emissions and, at the industry's current rate of growth, those emissions are set to balloon by 300%.

Earlier this year, it was confirmed that the planet faces an entirely new, and frightening, climate change reality; world average CO2 emissions have breached the critical 400ppm threshold. Permanently

Nobody is safe from climate change, but it is the poorest and most vulnerable that will bear the brunt of its effects, as they become more pronounced in the coming decades. Climate change and inequality are inexorably linked.

Aviation prioritises the needs of a relatively small number of wealthy jet-setters over the needs of ordinary holidaymakers, local residents, local communities and the planet. 

The industry is dominated by wealthy lobbyists working tirelessly to undermine the fight against a climate change crisis which disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable. 

Consequently, I hope you will forgive me for choosing not to celebrate the aviation industry's vaunted service to 'all mankind' this International Civil Aviation Day.

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