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Flying in the Face of Fairness: intergenerational inequities in the taxation of air travel

Debates about aviation policy in Britain are usually concerned with how many airports the country needs – and where they should be built – to support the economy and give us enough extra capacity to handle the increasing amount of flying that people are projected to do in the future.

This report, written on behalf of IF by a pair of aviation experts, challenges this view by analysing aviation from a fundamentally different perspective. It argues that current attitudes towards aviation are based on the price of flying being kept artificially low by massive tax subsidies from the British government. In the absence of these subsidies, prices would be higher and the overall volume of flying would be likely to decrease, which would turn the debate over airport expansion on its head. The report makes it clear that future generations are the big losers under the present arrangements, because they will suffer the consequences from climate change, which is being exacerbated by the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions that result from current volumes of air traffic.

The numbers involved are startling: the report estimates that the total subsidy from the UK government which is directed towards aviation is currently worth £11 billion per year, the impact of which is to make the cost of a return ticket by air around £100 cheaper than it would be if air travel was taxed in the same way as car journeys. The authors estimate that scrapping these subsidies in one go would reduce the volume of air travel by about a third – enough to make a huge difference to levels of air pollution. This challenging, thought-provoking analysis deserves to be read by anybody with an interest in aviation and the climate change debate.