We must save and above all transform the aviation sector

We must save and above all transform the aviation sector

© Pascal Rossignol
In Caen, August 2019.

Oppose any plan to support the aviation sector on the grounds that the polluted plane would be counterproductive, but aid without compensation and without clear commitments towards carbon neutrality would be just as much.

Grandstand. One of the most dramatic economic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis is the sudden cessation of air traffic. Since March, the sector has lost 90% of its customers, and most of the planes are today grounded. Inevitably, the question of the survival of airlines arises today, because for them bankruptcy is just a matter of weeks.

However, it is not a sector like any other, as its existence has a significant impact on the climate. The question is therefore not whether to save our airlines – questions of sovereignty, social and employment issues oblige us to do so -, but to know how to do it. We are convinced that public support for major airlines in Europe, such as Air France-KLM, must also fully integrate the objectives of combating climate change, since both aviation and the climate call for systemic responses. It is simply not possible for public money to prepare the conditions for the next crisis by wanting to respond to it. An ecological transition contract should therefore bind the taxpayer and the airline companies that will benefit from its support.

Towards carbon neutrality with the Green Deal

Given the nature of the sector, it is obvious that such financial support must be coordinated on a European scale. We must seize the opportunity of this crisis to define what is an air sector aligned with the Paris Agreement. How to redesign the European sky by fully integrating the objective of carbon neutrality for a growing sector? The all-round development of flights, the dumping and social and environmental issues can no longer be the norm as they are incompatible with the objectives of the European Union. These questions must be asked because the bankruptcy of a company will simply change the players, without changing the rules of the game. For example, when the Hungarian airline Malev went bankrupt, other companies with a less virtuous economic model, notably for the climate, have taken its place at Budapest Airport.

Oppose any plan to support the aviation sector on the grounds that the polluted plane would be completely counterproductive. Alternatively, unrequited support and no clear commitments to carbon neutrality would be equally important. Support for airlines must be done according to a plan. Good news: we have it, this is the Green Deal. Indeed, nothing prevents a State today from defining the modalities of its support for the economy according to criteria, including environmental. This is what makes European guidelines necessary to know what a State should demand from an airline which will have received its aid, what a company will not be able to do with these resources or which investments will be considered compatible. with carbon neutrality. The technical solutions exist and deserve to be explored: low carbon aircraft, electric taxiing equipment, purchase of high quality carbon credits… We therefore need a direction to follow so that taxpayers’ money serves the interests of all of the society. Airlines cannot refuse to pay tax while benefiting from public money without our scrutiny.

An agenda compatible with the Paris agreement

Before the Covid-19 crisis, we were working on building a European agenda for an aviation sector compatible with the Paris Agreement: strengthening the aviation carbon market, the end of free quotas, the limitation of rights historical emissions to the sector, investment in hydrogen, the introduction of a tax on kerosene … These are all measures that are intended to tackle the heart of the problem: while the air sector is one of the sectors including greenhouse gas emissions increase the most sharply, it continues to benefit from preferential treatment in the effort to combat it. We cannot afford to abandon this agenda.

The crisis we are going through is also a crisis of the resilience of our societies, and a time when citizens ask political decision makers for consistency and efficiency. Through the rescue of the major airlines, we have the opportunity to prove to them that we are listening to them by ensuring the industrial sovereignty of our States, by intelligently using public money, and by being credible in our fight for the protection of planet.


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