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Tue, Oct 23, 2007, 1:50am On Bailing out Airlines
Nature » Environment
he airline industry generally has a hard time getting by, both the businesses as a whole and the people who work for them. They "have to" be periodically bailed out by the government, so technically many have already failed, but they are being supported by tax subsidies. This has been true for a while. The fear is that if several airlines collapse completely, there will be a severe impact on businesses that rely on them and leisure travel will become severely curtailed.

Next time it comes up, no bail-out. Let whatever happens happen. My hope, today an environmental one, would be that when the dust settles, there will be a great deal lower overall number of flights and ticket prices will be much higher.

Let the market forces knock out however many of them just can't survive. Businesses have an ethical responsibility to cut down on business travel anyway, and almost none of them are doing it. This will force their hand and also greatly motivate them to alter their perceived needs about how they do their business. The number of unnecessary face-to-face meetings that people fly off to is staggering.

Leisure flying is also something that should happen much much less than it does. People don't realize the damage that flying does to the environment. As a rule of thumb, it's approximately the same fuel usage as each passenger driving their own car from the take off point to the landing field, and that doesn't include the contrail damage being done regularly to the atmosphere. Since passengers rarely want to hear that what their doing might be contributing to a very real problem, they will ignore it until the ticket price is so sky high that they can't be sky high whenever they want to be.

(One upside of a downturn in leisure travel is a reduction of tourism to places that are either deteriorating physically from it, or are turning into tourist towns and not creating stable economies on their own. The downsides are the effect it would have on tourist communities and perhaps the sense of cultural sympathies that can come about from being better-travelled. Another big downside would be the inevitable boom in boat cruise travel, which is a serious environmental threat. That is another topic for another day.)

The problem isn't how we can accomodate the current flight "needs" of the world, or come up with better ways to keep flight delays down and security up, etc, it's that we have to fly less. Bringing levels down to, say, 1/3rd the amount of flights and cranking up the price tag could also allow those who do stay in business to run a tight ship. This could be a good thing for employees too, though there certainly would be less of them in this industry.

I know, many of us, including me, love our present state of mobility. I've wanted cars that turned into private planes on a whim all my life. We can't be thoughtless travelers in this world anymore, and if the airlines are having a hard time, we should make sure not to bail them out. For once let our semi-free market weed out some of the excess in our bad habits.

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