LEADER: Airlines must act fast on climate change

Is the airline industry reacting too slowly to the debate on climate change?

It is now six months since the publication of the Stern report – which devastatingly announced that air travel was the ‘fastest-growing cause’ of global warming – yet only now do we hear the industry has set up a dedicated lobbying group.

Flying Matters was set up last week by a coalition including British Airways, easyJet, BAA and Airbus. And it emerges that experienced lobbyist Michelle Di Leo has been hired from LLM as campaign director.

Climate change is an issue that threatens the very future of these companies. Just look at how easily the Chancellor doubled airline passenger duty last year.

Indeed, a recent survey by YouGov shows British Airways, American Airlines and Ryanair right at the bottom of a league table of environmental brands. And yet Tesco and Marks & Spencer – which face similar scrutiny, but have been more pro-active on green initiatives – come near the top.

Individual carriers have certainly been pro-active. In January Sir Richard Branson called for sensible moves such as more efficient flying routes, towing of aircraft and air traffic control; easyJet has put green messages at the heart of its advertising; and new airline Silverjet has made much of its carbon neutrality.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary has, predictably, taken a contrary approach, accusing other industries of being worse polluters.

All this suggests that while airlines should continue with their own initiatives – no coincidence that BA’s new director of comms, Julia Simpson, comes from a public affairs background – they must also accelerate the way they combine their efforts.

One already senses a growing backlash against key infrastructure initatives such as Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and Stansted’s expansion. And this may prove just a minor cross-wind compared with the storm looming.

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