The True Cost of a Cheap Flight

January 29th, 2013 BY Bart | 1 Comment

In several areas of the world, particularly in Europe, there has been a proliferation of so-called ‘no frills’ airlines. These airlines offer amazingly good deals, a two-hour flight may cost as little as $40 or $50. If you are lucky, you may pick up the same flight for 10cents.

Across Europe there are nearly 50 ‘no frills’ operators, and dozens more regular airlines that try to compete with them on price. This has opened up a whole new world for travels.

Quick weekend breaks in a city, three countries, and 2,000km’s away has become the norm for many Europeans. And who can blame them, even including taxes, the round trip may only cost $50 or $100.

But increased flights are a serious threat to our planet’s atmosphere. At any one time, 24 hours a day, there are now close to 750,000 people in flight. It’s taken 100 years to reach that number. That figure is expected to crash through the one million mark within as little as five years.

By September 15th, just four days after the world trade centre attacks, the sky’s over North America were measured as having 10% more sunlight reaching the ground than the same day one year earlier.

The only thing that had changed was that commercial aircraft had been banned from flying for those four days. There can be no doubt that increased flights are putting even more stress on our atmosphere through emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Kyoto Protocol set out agreements that, greenhouse gases will be cut by over 5% by 2012, so that should help the situation. Well, maybe it would if international aviation were included in the agreement. Unfortunately, Kyoto sets targets for individual countries, so only applies to domestic flights.

Within North America, that is a useful greenhouse gas reducer, but in Europe, countries are relatively small, and international flights are many times more common.

One good development is the increased size and passenger load of aircraft. On average, more people are flying on fewer planes, (per passenger – per kilometer flown).

Bigger planes are more economical, financially for the airlines, and also as far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned. New technology will make planes more fuel-efficient and far less polluting.

The problem with that is the average life of a commercial aircraft is 20 to 25 years. Research, development and production of new aircraft takes 10 to 15 years. So if we have to wait another 8-12 year’s for a large number of new efficient planes to be launched.

Then an additional 10-15 years, for most of the inefficient aircraft to be grounded. There will be a least a quarter of a century before all the planes in the sky are bigger, more fuel-efficient, and less damaging to the atmosphere.

No-frills airlines are spreading across the globe. With India and China only in their infancy as far as the average person taking an international flight, no-frills airlines are already beginning to target these gigantic markets.

There are two other huge problems on the horizon with no-frills airlines. In a few months transatlantic routes will be deregulated for the first time ever. The existing and new cheap airlines have already shown a very strong interest in this new market.

Out in Malaysia, established no-frills giant Air Asia, has teamed up with Virgin Airlines mogul Richard Branson and are now offering flights from Southeast Asia to Australia, and in June, will begin their first no-frills Asia to Europe flights.

  1. EviesEarth

    This is truly an eye opener, as I have not given this much thought in regards to the environmental impact. Would it be worth while to try to avoid airlines such as these? Would that make a difference?

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