The Air Travel Dilemma

Design & Technology

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So the other day I was asked to calculate how many square kilometres of woodland would be required to provide enough biofuel to run an Airbus A380 plane for 24hrs. Obviously some assumptions/estimations had to be made but it worked out to be one square kilometre per plane. It may not seem like that much but considering there are an average of 93,000 flights a day, you would need an area of woodland larger than the whole of Scotland to fuel all the planes in the world for just one day. Doing this calculation really highlighted to me the excessive amount of fuel that is used to power our flight industry. Just one return flight from London to New York produces a greater carbon footprint than a whole year’s personal allowance needed to keep the climate safe. That is terrifying. 

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The detrimental impact planes are having on our climate makes air travel seem like something one should avoid at all costs. In terms of emissions this is true and as someone who is very environmentally conscious I should never even consider flying. However, I’m going to be honest with you, I often find myself on a flight, I was on 8 last year alone. This is because unfortunately my other passion of travelling can conflict with my environmental views. I am not against flights as I believe they have lead to us having a more connected world. It is so easy now a days for people to travel across the world. I think that is something amazing and it should be celebrated. We are able to experience different cultures at the click of a button by simply booking flights online. The world is literally at our fingertips. 

This accessibility brings so many benefits including helping to build our global community on both a social and political level. Affordable flights also give people the opportunity to escape from their everyday lives to see a new place and experience a different climate. This can be really good for mental health, especially when living in Scotland where it can be dark and grey for months. 

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The key thing here, as with many things, is moderation. I don’t think we should be overwhelmed by guilt simply because we want to escape to the sun for a wee holiday now and then. The two main sources of unnecessary flights, in my opinion, are business and domestic flights. Business men and women can find themselves going on flights weekly or, in some extreme cases, even daily. This is excessive to say the least. Thankfully alternative approaches like Skype meetings are becoming increasingly popular. I am hoping business flights will reduce over time as it saves the company expenses if they don’t have to pay to fly out their employees to meetings. 

Domestic flights on the other hand are in increasing popularity. The main reason for this is that ‘greener’ methods of transport like trains are often more expensive than flying. I find this so frustrating. A classic example is Glasgow to London. I have had to make that journey a number of times and have often discovered that flying is significantly cheaper than getting the train. Obviously people are going to choose the cheapest option and as a result people are taking short flights all around the UK. If train/ferry/bus travel isn’t made cheaper then I worry in the future we are going to look at flying as the preferred travel method. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research says we need to cut emissions by 90% by 2050 in order to keep our climate safe. If the flight industry continues to grow we have no chance of achieving this.

So I guess my view on flights is rather mixed. I wouldn’t say I am totally against flying, but when you are next planning a trip, have a look to see if there is an alternative way to travel to your destination.

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