Birmingham Friends of the Earth will be taking their air transport campaign to Solihull Environment Day, Sunday 15th June, Brueton Park, reminding visitors that only two weeks remain before the end of the Government's Consultation on the Future of Air Transport [1]. The Birmingham Friends of the Earth stall will take the form of a spoof airport check-in desk featuring recorded "announcements" [2] alerting passengers to the damaging effects of airport expansion.

Visitors will also have the chance to complete standard responses to the consultation in the form of 'Emergency cards' calling for cleaner and less damaging alternatives to air travel and the withdrawal of the heavy public subsidies the aviation industry currently enjoys [3].

In the absence of an official tax on aviation, Voluntary Flight Tax Tickets will be available from the Friends of the Earth stall for travellers who wish to mitigate some of the environmental damage caused by their flight. The Voluntary Flight Tax scheme is administered by Birmingham Friends of the Earth, the revenues being divided between investment in renewable energy sources and the remainder going towards our campaign for the right price for air travel [4].

Birmingham Friends of the Earth campaigner Brett Rehling said:

"Airport expansion will have knock-on effects on communities across the UK, not just those near the airports themselves. Are cheap short haul flights (which could easily be accommodated by alternatives like high speed rail) really worth more climate change [5], more road congestion, more noise pollution [6], more lost wildlife and countryside, more harm to rural economies?"

Birmingham Friends of the Earth campaigner James Botham said:

"The current plans would see the equivalent of a new Stansted airport being built every year for the next quarter of a century, affecting just about everyone. But the Government's own figures show that most of the pressure for airport development comes from an expected rise in cheap tourist flights. Airport expansion is being driven by so-called low cost flights, only made possible because of the net £7 billion public subsidies the airlines and airport operators receive annually. "

Mr Botham added:

"Cheap flights are an illusion. The average taxpayer pays an extra £500 a year more tax than they have to, whether they fly or not. We want the airlines to pay the costs they currently allow to fall to society at large."

Editor's Notes

[1] The Department for Transport's national public consultation on "The Future of Development of Air Transport in the UK" opened in July 2002. A series of regional consultation documents were produced, outlining possible expansion plans in each region of the UK. The consultation was due to end on 30th November 2002 but had to be extended when the Government lost a legal challenge against the exclusion of Gatwick airport from the proposals. The consultation will now end in two weeks time.

[2] Examples of the spoof airport announcements:

  • "Under your seats you will find the hidden costs of air travel: noise and air pollution, traffic congestion, ruined countryside, climate change and suffering local economies."
  • "Birmingham International Airport would like to reassure teachers and pupils at schools under the flight path that any lessons interrupted by aircraft noise will resume in one minute . . . FOR one minute. Birmingham International would like to apologise for the severe delay to your education."
  • "Tonight's in-flight movie is 'Sleepless in Solihull', an endless montage of footage from 1960s secret government sleep-deprivation experiments set to a perpetually looped recording of aircraft noise."
  • "Will all passengers for the Wheezy Jet service to Glasgow from Birmingham International please catch the train instead."
  • "To your left you will find the exit BLOCKED by unnecessary and destructive airport developments."
  • "Before take-off please familiarise yourself with the safety procedures. My Travel Blight accept no liability for noise disturbance, air pollution, climate change or destruction of historic villages and greenbelt."
  • "Customer announcement: can Mr A. Darling please report to the lost luggage department to collect the £7 billion of public money he appears to have lost to the aviation industry."
  • "Visibility is reported as poor with the wood not being visible for the trees, heads in the cloud cover and politicians in Westminster unable to see what's staring them in the face."
  • "We regret to inform passengers returning to Birmingham International that we may well have built a second runway over your homes while you were away. Thank you."
  • "If you can hear this then you don't live near an airport."
  • "Please do not leave your homes, communities or countryside unattended anywhere near the airport. Multinational construction companies are known to operate in this area."

[3] Taxpayers are subsidising the airlines. Excise duty on aviation fuel, if paid would amount to £5 billion a year. If VAT was paid on this fuel and on airline tickets, this would generate a further £2.6 billion a year. Other tax breaks amount to an extra £0.4 billion a year. In comparison, air passenger duty (APD) amounts to less than £1 billion a year. This creates a net tax break to the airlines and airport operators of £7 billion a year – money that could instead be spent on essential public services like health, education, policing and social services.

[4] In the Voluntary Flight Tax Scheme, the amount you pay is entirely up to you. As a guideline, the VAT that should be being charged on your ticket is 17.5%, however a typical contribution is around 10% of the cost of the flight. Flight Tax Tickets are available from Birmingham Friends of the Earth, 54-57 Allison Street, Digbeth, B5 5TH. Call James Botham on 0121 632 6909.

[5] Aviation is the fastest growing source of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Annual carbon dioxide (C02) emissions from aviation are nearly as high as those from all the human activity in Africa. A passenger making a return long-haul flight from the UK to Florida, USA produces as much carbon dioxide as the average British car driver in a whole year. Climate change is starting to be felt in the UK and could increase flooding and extreme weather events.

[6] According to a survey by the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), one in eight of the population is already affected by noise pollution from aircraft. In its report on runway expansion, Flying to Distraction, the CPRE says that 600,000 extra people will have their lives blighted by aircraft noise in the next 30 years, many of them in the few remaining tranquil areas of countryside. The reason, in part, is queues of aircraft waiting to land, circling over the Midlands, Chelmsford, or Ashford (depending on which airport expands).