Flight-shame movement – A threat to Airlines?

Flight-shaming (flygskam in Swedish) is an anti-flying movement originated in Sweden in 2018. The movement has got substantial traction in social media and encourages people to avoid flights as much as possible to lower the global carbon emissions. This group of people are shaming individuals opting for air travel for short flights instead of rail/ water ways. This term has been trending in the recent past due to their efforts to improve awareness on sustainability.  The movement has influenced people’s travel medium in Northern Europe, with many people opting for trains rather than flights and there is a spike in rail travel compared to the last few years.

While flygskam is of major influence in Europe, Green New Deal (GND), an economic stimulus package to address climate change and economic inequality, is expected to be a major influencer in the US. Green New Deal (GND) was signed by Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and is expected to be a major issue in the 2020 US Elections. GND proposes building and implementing a greater number of high-speed rails to reduce air travel. Though high-speed rail cannot substitute international flight routes, it can be an alternative for domestic short-haul flights. While rail is the most preferred option in many developing countries its not the case with developed economies like US where the air network is much more connected and viable option than the rail network.

While commercial aviation accounts for only 2-3% of the global carbon emissions currently, the volume of air passengers, number of flights and flight routes are expected to increase heavily over the next 6 years. This is expected to increase the share of aviation in the global carbon emissions. IATA (International Air Transport Association), the global trade association for aviation industry, recognizes the need for addressing this issue and has set several targets including average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year (during 2009-2020), cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 and reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050 (relative to the emission levels in 2005). IATA relies on new technology, efficient operations, infrastructure improvements and modernization of air traffic management systems to achieve these targets. In February 2017, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) a specialized agency of the United Nations, adopted global CO2 certification standard for new aircraft to limit CO2 emissions. The standard is expected to come into effect by 2020. Unlike automotive industry where electric engines are transforming cars, trucks, and buses, aviation industry is far behind in adopting a renewable source of power. eVTOL (electrical vertical take-off and landing) planes, autonomous planes and hybrids have still a long way to go to be commercialised.

Conclusion

Movements like flygskam and GND is expected to have a negative impact on the aviation industry. However, the alternative sought for aviation, the high-speed rail should completely run on electricity and not coal or other non-renewable source of energy. Also, electricity demand is going to increase with growing number of electric vehicles and the focus of every country should be on generating it through renewable power source. Despite IATA trying to address the carbon emission issue in several ways, decarbonizing is a major challenge and unless a radical change comes in the aircraft engine development the carbon emission from the industry will not witness a substantial reduction.

– Arjun Das
ICT – Research Analyst
Infoholic Research