EU urged to rethink plan to bail out airlines


March 19th, 2020

Over 150 environmental
organisations have urged the EU not to bail out the aviation industry in the
wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In a letter to the
bloc’s transport ministers, the Stay Grounded network asked that public funding
be directed to “people, not airlines” as ministers held an extraordinary
meeting this week to grapple with the financial losses airlines have
experienced in the wake of the outbreak. 

“Let’s not bail out
shareholders and executives who have spent years lining their pockets, while
hundreds of thousands of small businesses, owner-operated restaurants and
creative artists go out of business,” the letter said. 

Crisis, the network
added, requires solidarity and an opportunity to “wash our hands of the virus,
not of responsibility”. 

Stay Grounded has
repeatedly called for lower-carbon travel alternatives to aviation, such as
night train services, and in their letter stressed that those working in the
industry were entitled to a just transition to climate-friendly

The “unintended pause” for the industry provides a chance, the authors said, “to rethink what we can do to stop far worse consequences from climate collapse, and flying’s contribution to it”. 

Dublin Airport Terminal 1 & 2 Photo: Colm De Spáinn

COVID-19’s impact on

With travel bans
imposed around the world in an effort to contain the virus, the aviation
industry has seen a sharp drop in demand for its services, with airlines reducing
flights and staff.

Commercial airline
traffic halved last week and is expected to continue to plummet as borders
continue to close. Qantas Airways Ltd CEO Alan Joyce said
it was the “single biggest shock” that the industry has experienced.

Ryanair will cut its
flights by 80 per cent over the next week and from 24 March onwards the airline
is anticipating that most, if not all, Ryanair Group flights will be

On the stock market front, Airbus shares had fallen by more than seven per cent and Boeing saw its value drop by almost a quarter at the beginning of the week. 

Ryanair plane Photo: Pxhere
Ryanair plane Photo: Pxhere


While acknowledging the
financial hits the industry is taking, aviation manager at Transport and
Environment Andrew Murphy stressed that any bailout should be “conditional on
carriers paying fuel, ticket and other taxes once the crisis has passed”. 

“Public money should
support the technologies of the future and not reinforce the mistakes of the
past,” Mr Murphy said.  The environmental NGO is also calling on
low-carbon fuel usage being a requirement for any bail-out that is brought

Aviation accounts for
roughly 13 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU and if the
industry continues to grow as projected, the figure could almost double. 

Yet the industry has been largely exempt from taxation, as it is not required to pay tax on fuel nor international flights in Europe.  To date, the fuel exemption alone is valued at €27 billion a year. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.

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