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A requiem for ultra-cheap flights – EURACTIV.com


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It’s difficult to quantify the effect budget airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Wizz Air have had on Europe. 

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At their best, these airlines pioneered the quiet democratisation of air travel. Who needs smiling stewards handing out hot towels and complimentary coffee when you’re being hurtled across borders for less than the cost of a cinema ticket?

Indeed, a whole generation of migrant workers in Europe (of which the author of this brief is one) came to rely on cheap flights as a means to keep close ties with home.

This strange, modern ability to effectively bi-locate – to develop a new life in a new environment whilst using cheap flights to remain part of your former life – created a new understanding of what it means to live abroad. 

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It fed the idea that one could be in and of two countries – both simultaneously.

But while the ability to cheaply travel the breadth of the continent had benefits, it also had a cost.

Cheap flights contributed to unsustainable levels of tourism, with locals of popular city break destinations suffering from rising prices and an erosion of communities.

Unions have long complained that the business model of budget airlines requires cheap labour to function, undermining conditions in the aviation industry as a whole.

And environmental advocates decry flying as the most carbon-intensive means to travel, one that exacerbates the climate crisis.

So, on balance, are ultra-cheap flights positive or negative for society?

This debate may soon be a moot point as several factors coalesce to push up the price of flying – possibly irreversibly.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent oil prices soaring, making it more expensive for airlines to refuel.

Then there are taxes, levied at the national and EU levels.

In Brussels, three significant pieces of legislation to rein in emissions are on the horizon, which is expected to push up the cost of flying.

Firstly, the so-called “ReFuelEU” legislation will require planes to uplift a set percentage of green jet fuel from 2025 onwards. The percentage of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will increase roughly every five years. 

SAFs are made from advanced biofuels and electro-fuels, both of which are significantly more expensive than kerosene.

Second is the EU’s emission trading system (ETS) for aviation, which puts a price on carbon emissions. While this has existed for inter-EU flights since 2012, in practice, most flights are exempt from carbon costs thanks to the generous provision of free carbon allowances.

But under EU plans, these carbon allowances would be scrapped, forcing airlines to pay more to emit. 

Finally, the EU is breaking with decades of tradition and planning to place a tax on kerosene for intra-EU flights. 

According to the airline industry, this tax would add €8 to the price of a short-haul flight ticket in 2030 and €9.30 in 2035. For a medium-haul flight within the bloc, the price in 2035 would increase by €18.60.

Add to this a slew of other charges, from aircraft renewal costs to airport slot charges, and it seems that the days of dirt-cheap flying may be coming to a close. 

So, is this a cause for celebration or mourning? 

Perhaps both, simultaneously.

– Sean Goulding Carroll

Will paying for EV charging be as easy as refuelling petrol cars?

In October, the European Parliament adopted its position on the ‘Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR)’, which sets minimum targets for how many EV charging points EU countries need to provide, notably among main routes.

Lawmakers not only want more public charging stations to be built, but they also want to make it easier for consumers to use them.

“Our vision is very clear: charging as easy as refuelling,” said Green MEP Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg. “We need user-friendly and simple payment systems so everyone can charge and pay for their electric car at the next street corner,” she told EURACTIV.

For this, MEPs would like to oblige all public charging points to have a terminal for debit and credit card payments, including those on the roads today.

But the obligation to retrofit existing stations proves controversial, with the Council warning that this might lead to charging stations being dismantled rather than retrofitted and charging operators saying they want to concentrate on the roll-out instead.

“We are small-medium scale-ups and start-ups,” said Tanya Sinclair, who is representing ChargePoint, a charging station operator with a market capitalisation of $4 billion, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). “We don’t have this huge kind of wealth of capacity to be able to then roll out EV charging infrastructure at scale and go back and retrofit existing EV infrastructure.”

The next negotiation between parliament and member states is set for the 13th of December, but an agreement on the file is only expected to happen next year, said the EP’s chief negotiator, Ismail Ertug.

– Jonathan Packroff

The end of flight mode

There are few places left in Europe where it’s possible to have a respite from the internet, a break from the endless notifications of always-connected personal devices.

One of the last bastions (and acceptable excuses) of going internet-free was when taking a plane trip. But not for much longer.

Last week, the European Commission gave the green light for airlines to install 5G technology on aircraft travelling within the EU, enabling passengers to use their phones as they would on the ground.

Passengers are also permitted to connect to 4G coverage as usual, which would typically be available when travelling at lower altitudes.

“The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, announcing the legislative update. 

A so-called “pico-cell” would be installed in the cabin of participating aircraft, enabling phone users to route calls, texts, and data via a satellite network to the ground below.

The Commission additionally opened up the 5GHz frequencies for Wi-Fi in cars and buses. 

According to a Commission communication, this would lay the foundation for innovation in the automotive sector and “potentially for Metaverse applications”.

“5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European companies,” Breton added.

– Sean Goulding Carroll

Europe’s air traffic agency accused of giving Ryanair special treatment

Union leaders claimed the Irish official in charge of Europe’s air traffic control agency is giving preferential treatment to his compatriot Michael O’Leary, head of the budget airline Ryanair.

Hungarian petrol stations hit by shortages, Budapest affected

Several big petrol stations around Hungary, including the capital of Budapest, are experiencing fuel shortages as a price cap on fuel for private consumption shows signs of affecting supply.

Europe flags space ambitions with spending hike and new astronauts

European nations agreed to boost spending on space by 17% to stay on the heels of the United States and China in two days of intense bargaining overshadowed by rising energy prices.

Plastic vs fuel? Experts warn of biomass limits

As energy and manufacturing processes increase their demand for renewable fuel sources, agricultural experts have called for a phase-out of biofuels from dedicated crops. However, others warn that without those, emissions reduction targets in the transport sector cannot be met.

Cheap flights are in demise – but why?

This week on the Beyond the Byline podcast, we discuss the “death” of really cheap flights.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]


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