A recent decision by British Airways (BA) has green lobbyists up in arms. Despite its pledged support for trimming the airline industry’s carbon dioxide emissions, BA added a new twice-daily business service (read: fewer seats) between London City Airport and New York. (The London City Airport also plans to increase its flights by 50 percent.) Environmental lobbyists are concerned that the decision is a step backward in curbing overall aviation emissions, which are a significant source of global emissions. Moreover, given the potential financial benefit (in the short term, anyway) of adding the flights, the debate could get pretty sticky. In a sense, it boils to down to a basic question: is sustainability a bigger-picture long-term goal, or is a nod to eco-consciousness sufficient, if it provides a much-needed short-term fix?
According to a BusinessGreen.com report, BA customized two aircrafts (Airbus A318s) for the business class service flights. The planes will be more fuel efficient than older models and produce approximately 25 percent of the carbon of a typical Boeing 747 aircraft on the same London-to-New-York route. Each plane seats 32 passengers, versus the typical 100 of a coach flight.
The implications of this arrangement depend on who you ask.
Many environmentalists are incensed. After all, whatever the planes’ fuel efficiency, their 32-seat layout will create approximately three times the emissions per person as a regular flight. As Friends of the Earth’s Richard Dyer reportedly said, “Aviation causes harmful emissions that contribute to climate change – we should be curbing the growth in flying, not laying new flights.”
(Lobbyists also have filed a legal challenge against the Newham Council [the organization that granted permission for the London City Airport to expand its flights], on grounds that, in permitting the expansion, the Council failed to consider environmental damage, noise, residents’ rights, and other factors.)
Meanwhile, BA appears to be resolute. “British Airways is absolutely committed to tackling aviation’s impacts on climate change,” a BA spokesman reportedly said, citing the Airbus A318s’ fuel efficiency.
At the same time, a realistic critique of the situation must address the potential economic benefit to the airline (and airport) – an understandable motivation in a recession, particularly given the recent woes of the airline industry. A BA press release intimates the expected profit the London City Airport will enjoy from adding the flights: “New York is the most demanded destination not currently served from London City. The new route is a key growth opportunity for us and demonstrates the premium nature of London City Airport.” Yet in all things sustainable, immediate benefit may be destructive in the long-term.
What are your thoughts on the situation?