FREQUENT FLYER LEVY
REAL Sustainability attended the online discussion on 14 October 2020 about a proposed Frequent Flyer Levy (FFL) hosted by the organisation Possible. The group, which campaigns for climate action on a number of issues, was previously known as 10:10 Climate Action which was launched in 2009. Its focus is on solutions to the climate crisis in the UK. Areas of interest are cleaning up energy, changing how we travel, changing what we eat and buy, working with nature and talking about the climate crisis. The FFL is intended as a fair model for reducing the demand for air travel.
For most people, flying will constitute their greatest source of emissions. Prior to COVID-19, demand for air travel had been increasing by about 5% per annum. Improved aviation efficiency has only been reducing emissions by about 1% per annum. Alternative technologies, such as synthetic fuels, are a long way off. Electric power is feasible for small aircraft travelling short distances but these only make up about 15% of the sector. Possible estimate that 80% of private jet flights in the UK could be undertaken with electric planes.
Aviation currently constitutes about 8% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK. Because of the current lack of alternative technologies, it is the worst-performing sector of the UK economy in terms of decarbonisation and demand (pre-COVID) had been predicted to increase emissions by 70% by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change expect aviation emissions to be the largest net source of residual GHG emissions by 2050 based on a much lower 25% increase in demand. Possible is sceptical about negative emissions technologies, such as carbon capture, as a way achieving net-zero by 2050. This means we need to reduce demand and hence the proposed FFL.
Politically this is a very sensitive issue due to the public’s appetite for overseas holidays. There is currently no fuel tax on kerosene, the hydrocarbon used in aviation. Possible is in favour of such a tax to bring air travel in line with other forms of transport. However, the increase in fuel tax needed to reduce demand by frequent flyers would result in aviation being put out of the reach of those on low incomes. There is currently no VAT associated with air travel despite it being a luxury item and Possible argue that this should be changed. There is a tax known as air passenger duty however this is very low. Another approach to reducing demand would be to restrict airport capacity.
frequent flyer levy (FFL)
The problem with a general increase in the cost of air travel is that it will significantly impact those on low incomes. If we consider demand for flights, it is very unfairly distributed. In the UK, 70% of all flights are taken by 15% of the population referred to as frequent flyers. Most of these frequent flyers are high earners. (Frequent flyers are considered to be those that take three or more return flights every year.) The situation is exacerbated by reward schemes that promote frequent flying. The FFL is a progressive approach and would have little or no impact on the majority of people that take flights. Possible has been doing some preliminary modelling of the FFL with New Economics Foundation. It is suggesting differential threshold levels above which increasingly more tax (levy) is paid. The tax would take the distance and class of flight into account. It would ideally need to be implemented on a global or, at least, regional basis. Employers would be liable for taxes for business flights taken by their employees. For more on the detail relating of FFL can be accessed via the website afreeride.org.
The FFL has growing political support and has been Green Party policy for some time. It has been Labour and Liberal Democrat policy since 2019. It is supported by the Committee on Climate Change and the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate. Possible is looking to introduce a FFL bill in parliament to raise its profile.