There are various factors with the potential to cut flight numbers, of which Covid-19 is only oneby Julian Baggini / March 31, 2020 / Leave a comment
Could we soon be looking back at 2019 as the year in which the world reached “peak plane”? The year when air travel reached its zenith? The suggestion might seem absurd. Yes, Covid-19 will give the airlines a short, sharp shock, but in the long term no one sees anything but growth. In 2016, for example, the International Air Transport Association predicted that the number of airline passengers per year would double by 2035 to 7.2bn.
But before dismissing the idea that peak plane might already have come, remember that for years it was widely believed that as the world got richer, car use would see an inexorable rise. In fact, some have crunched the data and concluded that we have already reached peak car, maybe as long ago as 2012.
The predictions of air travel growth are based on extrapolations of what has happened to date on the assumption that nothing fundamental is going to change. But I think we have reason to believe that more than one fundamental has changed. If so, past performance may not be indicative of future results.
Two of these shifts predate the current crisis. First, we seem to be reaching a tipping point in environmental awareness. The term flygskam (flight shaming) only came into usage in 2017 and it has quickly caught on. There may be very few people who have given up flying altogether but many are cutting down. The days of leaping onto planes at the drop of a hat, as we did during the peak of the budget airlines boom, are numbered, if not over. Businesses and other organisations are also beginning to question their use of air travel, and as they do they are often concluding it is time-consuming and very cost ineffective.
Even if most citizens don’t walk their green talk, the increased seriousness with which environmental issues are taken is impacting on policies that directly affect the growth of air travel. Heathrow’s new runway for now looks stalled, while plans to expand Bristol airport were also scuppered. Appeals might yet see these decisions reversed but they chime with increased public unwillingness to see air traffic increased.
Another factor is cultural. Flying used to be seen as glamorous, exciting, aspirational. Now that almost everyone…