What’s Going On Here?

Wednesday 27th October was budget day – the day when the Chancellor of the Exchequer sets out his plans for taxation for the next year. Updates made to the rate of Air Passenger Duty (APD) paid by plane operators could have a big impact on the UK’s commitment to reach net zero.

What Does This Mean?

APD is a per passenger tax on plane operators; currently there are two bands (one for journeys less than 2000 miles and one for journeys more than 2000 miles), with three rates within each band depending on the class of travel.

From April 2023, Rishi Sunak is proposing to cut the rate for domestic flights by half. 

Additionally, he is proposing to introduce a new higher “ultra long haul” band for flights over 5500 miles in length. According to Sunak “less than 5% of passengers will pay more” as a result of these changes.

Why Should We Care?

Currently, the contribution of aviation to global CO2 emissions is relatively low. In fact, most approximates put it at around 2.5% globally and around 7% of the UK’s emissions. 

However, due to the difficulty in decarbonising air travel, that proportion is set to massively increase. The Climate Change Committee predict that “aviation is likely to be the largest emitting sector in the UK by 2050”. 

Most agree the only way to avoid this situation is to manage (i.e. reduce) the demand for air travel. 

For long distance (we’re talking intercontinental) travel there are very few viable alternatives to flying. Even so, we should all be trying to reduce the number of those kind of flights we take as they make up the vast majority of emissions attributed to aviation. The proposed “ultra long haul” band may help reduce the demand for these flights. Time will tell.

How, though, does reducing APD for domestic flights help reduce the demand for air travel I hear you ask? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. 

What it will do is make air travel seem even more attractive when compared to other lower impact forms of transport like rail travel. Research by Which? showed that, on average, domestic rail travel is already almost 50% more expensive than the equivalent flight. Crucially for the environment flights emit six times as much CO2.

Rishi Sunak argues that it will provide “a boost for regional airports” and help level up the country by providing employment in those regions. But, there are other more sustainable ways of doing this. Just see Sarah Fehrs’ post about the green industrial revolution for more information on that.

Be Curious!

Look for alternatives to domestic, and international, air travel. For example, Lumo (a new low cost train service between London and Edinburgh) and The Man in Seat 61 (a website that gives guidance on rail travel from the UK to Europe and beyond).

Make a pledge to take a flight free year at Flight Free UK.

Support the Campaign for Better Transport.