On 3.7.2013 the European Commission launched a public consultation asking for feedback on the revised draft guidelines on State aid to airports and airlines. However, since aircraft are not environmentally friendly, they are noisy and not even particularly comfortable, and modern ground-based alternatives could even be faster although expensive, my suggestion is not to fund such a bad mode of transport publicly or to impose environmental standards that would require aviation to be environmentally competitive with ground-based modes of transport in order to be eligible to receive state aid. As a single person, I cannot make a statement that the people in charge of this consultation will listen to, but if there's political pressure for example in form of an Avaaz petition, they might listen.
Mikko Merikivi, a Finnish activist (mikkommm [at] gmail [dot] com)
The European Union is bound by a number of international agreements and EU's own decisions on the issue of climate change.
The European Commission recognizes according to their web pages about climate change that "To prevent the most severe impacts of climate change, the international community has agreed that global warming should be kept below 2ºC compared to the temperature in pre-industrial times. That means a temperature increase of no more than 1.2°C above today's level".
The European Union has made at least 876 decisions on the issue of climate change.
Some of the more important commitments are the overall objectives for greenhouse gas reduction. The European Council of March 2007 endorsed a Community objective of a 30 % reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 as its contribution to a global and comprehensive agreement for the period after 2012, provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and economically more advanced developing countries commit themselves to contributing adequately according to their responsibilities and capabilities.
Also, the Community makes a firm independent commitment to achieve at least a 20 % reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990.
All sectors of the economy should contribute to achieving these emission reductions, including international maritime shipping and aviation.
It is therefore highly evident that the EU has legal reasons to meet these objectives.
Aviation's role in climate change
There are huge uncertainties when estimating aviation's effect on climate change. Aviation-induced cloudiness could have a surface temperature response of 0.003°C to 0.3°C per decade for the period 1973 to 1994. These numbers don't take into account aerosols. Since IPCC data on aviation's role in total radiative forcing is either incomplete or outdated, we use a different study. Aviation represents a 3.5% share of total anthropogenic forcing in 2005 (90% likelihood range of 1.3–10%), excluding AIC, or a 4.9% share (90% likelihood range of 2–14%) including AIC. Those are pretty big numbers in themselves but given the forecasts of traffic growth the overall radiative forcing will be 1.7 times greater in 2020 than that calculated for 2000. If we also take into account technological advancing, in 2050 the aviation RF will be probably 3.2 to 4 times greater than in 2000.
It is therefore possible to argue that aviation represents a noticeable portion of climate change and even if (this is just my interpretation, not from an actual study) EU's program "Clean Sky" to reduce aviation's emissions significantly succeeds at all of its objectives, aviation will still have pretty much the same radiative forcing effect as it does now even though EU has decided to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020. Therefore, it is possible to argue that additional measures are required to reduce aviation's impact on climate change.
Aviation compared to other modes of transport
IPCC only compares CO2 emissions, primarily because other pollutant emissions are not comparable at all altitudes. The amount of CO2 emitted per passenger-km for different modes of transport is very dependent on the type of aircraft, train, or car and on the load factor. Typical CO2 emissions for air transport are in the range of 30 to 110 g C per passenger-km, which is comparable with passengers travelling by car or light truck. Emission of CO2 per passenger-km from bus or coach transport is significantly lower (< 20 g C per passenger-km). For rail travel, CO2 emissions per passenger-km depend on several factors, such as source of primary energy, type of locomotive, and load factor; emissions vary between < 5 and 50 g C per passenger-km.
In terms of CO2 (g C per tonne-km), aviation emits 1 to 2 orders of magnitude more carbon than other forms of transport. Cost and weight limitations do not allow aircraft to compete in the transport of heavy goods. For perishable freight and high-value goods, however, there may be no other suitable form of transportation.
There doesn't appear to be any reliable comparison of noise from various modes of transport that include aviation but according to for example U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration's documents, aviation does have high noise levels. Also, here's one of those "unreliable" comparisons there exist for various modes of transport.
For other environmental effects, it's even more difficult to make good comparisons.
Alternatives for aviation
Even now there exist magnetically levitated (Maglev) trains that are competitive in speed (over 500 km/h) with airplanes and have almost zero emissions and operating costs. However, the infrastructure is expensive but competitive with conventional trains. For intercontinental cargo transport, ships are a possible alternative for heavy goods. For the absolutely required fast transit, aviation will not simply vanish if state aid is banned.
Also, it's questionable if this much passenger transportation is even required. From physics perspective, it requires less energy to move even large amounts of bytes than people. It's also faster and more comfortable since there's no need to move from workplace. This technology exists already. It's called videoconferencing. It's difficult to compare it to face-to-face meetings, but I managed to find one study that gives an example situation. The lifecycle carbon footprint of transportation in the example situation in a face-to-face meeting is 3533 kg CO2e (plane), 2900 kg CO2e (train) and 3317 kg CO2e (car), while the carbon emissions of the same meeting via videoconferencing is between 4 kg CO2e (lower bound) and 215 kg CO2e (upper bound).
In the future, aviation will also become faster (for example, the Zehst is supposed to be able to reach 5000 km/h) but so will ground transport. Vacuum tube trains will be able to reach 8000 km/h. New fuel sources will also make aviation seemingly more environmentally friendly but for example biofuels might come at the cost of deforestation if farmland is used in its production. There are always hidden costs and choosing the right mode of transport for state aid requires frequent assessment of their externalities.
At the moment it's clear from just the environmental perspective that aviation shouldn't be funded publicly. It's now up to YOU to decide if the environmental perspective is more important than the economical perspective the EU shortsightedly pursues. Please support this petition.
5 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007, Working Group I Report http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-6-3.html
6 Lee, D.S., et al., Aviation and global climate change in the 21st century, Atmospheric Environment (2009), doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2009.04.024
8 IPCC, Aviation and the Global Atmosphere (1999) http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/aviation/126.htm
11 Maglev. (2013, July 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:53, July 18, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Maglev&oldid=564617802
12 High Speed Rail 2010 Conference: White Paper http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/dispelling-myths-blow.pdf
13 Dennis Ong, Tim Moors and Vijay Sivaraman. Complete life-cycle assessment of the energy/CO2 costs of videoconferencing vs face-to-face meetings http://www2.eet.unsw.edu.au/~timm/pubs/vc_energy.pdf
14 Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport. (2013, July 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:52, July 18, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Zero_Emission_Hyper_Sonic_Tran...
15 Vactrain. (2013, July 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:52, July 18, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vactrain&oldid=564805527