Why workers should oppose aviation expansion

Aviation growth is incompatible with climate targets

We are facing a climate emergency that requires the UK to completely decarbonise its economy. Aviation already accounts for 7% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, but this is an underestimate, since aviation's climate impact has been found to be tripled if the additional impact of high-altitude emissions is included. Even without expansion, this would be difficult to absorb within a ‘net-zero’ emissions target for the UK.

But the government's recently released 'Jet Zero strategy' foresees a huge increase in passenger numbers (rising by 70% by 2050 compared to 2018).

There’s no alternative to managing demand: improvements in aircraft efficiency and alternative fuels can only make a small dent, despite abundant greenwash, while carbon offsets rarely stand up to scrutiny. This means there is no way that aviation expansion will provide the jobs of the future. Unions must push for new, greener infrastructure, from wind turbines to bus and rail networks to protect our livelihoods for the long term. 

More jobs and better jobs are needed in other sectors

Some unions welcome airport expansion on the basis that it will create jobs. But even those unions have found themselves organising strikes on behalf of workers in the aviation industry. Instead our unions need to get behind a ‘just transition’ away from aviation towards secure, well paid, public sector jobs as part of a Green New Deal.

Inequity: the vast majority of those flying are rich

In the UK, 70% of flights are taken by only 15% of the population, whilst at least half the population do not fly at all. The vast majority of flights are made by the richest in society. In contrast to a redistributive Green New Deal, expanding aviation will intensify inequalities further.

The sector enjoys significant tax breaks. It has been estimated that the tax exemption on aviation fuel costs the Exchequer £4 billion a year that could go towards struggling public services. (1)

Local health and environmental impacts

In addition to global climate impacts meted out on the poorest, airport expansion is detrimental to the health of those living nearby. The area around Heathrow already breaches legal limits for air pollution. Local councils warn that expansion of Heathrow will damage the health of around 121,000 people. Aircraft noise disrupts residents’ daily living, sleep and children's learning, while air pollution exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular conditions and leads to premature deaths. 

The alternative

Demand for high-carbon flights needs to be managed, not encouraged, through means such as investment in affordable, nationalised rail; a frequent flyer levy; and incentives for businesses to adopt no-fly solutions such as video-conferences. Limited annual leave allowance should also be addressed as a possible barrier to holiday travel by trains. 

What you can do

The alternative to low pay and climate change is not bigger airports, but government investment in climate jobs, as set out here. We encourage all workers to join an appropriate trade union www.tuc.org.uk/join-union. If you are in a union, take our model motion to your union branch and local trades council. Join the Campaign against Climate Change.

Airports are planning expansion across the country - support your local campaign.

Find out more about aviation expansion and greenwash on the Campaign against Climate Change main website.

Farnborough air show: for the industry, not for the workers

1. Transport & Environment, which has analysed the tax regime at an EU level, calculated for us that that the revenue from fuel duty of 0.33€ / litre from all UK departing flights would be €4.8 billion. This is based on aviation in 2016, so could be greater if applied today (although the tax might have an impact on demand). The current campaign to apply a kerosene tax within the EU is only for domestic and intra-EU flights because of legal restrictions on a tax on other international flights.