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A fresh approach to flying?

East Asia's first budget airline may promise a “fresh” way of thinking, says Ross Perlin, but the reality is more stale. Rising greenhouse-gas emissions call for a rethink in the travel industry.

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Described as “the world’s first long-haul budget airline”, Oasis Hong Kong Airlines could hardly have come at a better time. Profits are soaring at low-cost European favourites like Ryanair and Easyjet, the Chinese aviation market is just opening up, and demand for flights between Europe and east Asia has never been higher.

Or maybe it could not have come at a worse time. Aviation’s contribution to carbon emissions is more fully appreciated than ever before, the EU has plans to impose emissions controls on all flights under its jurisdiction, and budget airlines have become some of the worst culprits in an aviation boom that seems to fly in the face of the environmental consequences.

Still in its first months of regular service flying from London Gatwick to Hong Kong, Oasis, promising a "fresh approach to flying", has generated an impressive amount of press for its jaw-dropping fares (advertised as £75 [US$147] each way, before tax). The lowest round-trip, all-inclusive fares found by this author came to £261 (US$513), with fares from £300 (US$589) up much more typical. At the same time, low-cost sites like Expedia and Travelocity turned up tickets on major carriers from around £390 (US$766).

And prices are expected to keep falling. If the long-haul budget market even approaches the size of, say, the European market dominated by Ryanair and Easyjet, we can expect people to fly from London to Hong Kong almost as casually as they now fly from London to Berlin.

But at the moment, the euphoria of travellers is still managing to outshine the concerns of environmentalists.

While the ecological impact of Oasis is negligible in comparison to major airlines like British Airways or (Oasis competitor) Cathay Pacific, the new airline’s launch is another indication that the budget airline model is spreading fast and that the number of flights to, from, and within China is growing exponentially.

Ryanair, in particular, has redefined our sense of the possible for budget airlines. The Irish carrier now flies 362 routes to 22 countries, recently reporting €116 million (US$150 million) in net profits this year, and contributing significantly to commercial aviation’s role in carbon-dioxide-caused climate change. There have been few efforts to curb this kind of growth—in fact, the expansion of airports and tax breaks has fueled it.

According to Steve Miller, the airline’s CEO, Oasis has plans to follow the same trajectory, scaling up its model significantly to include destinations in the U.S. and Europe and acquire 25 airplanes.

Unlike Ryanair, whose CEO, Michael O’Leary, recently stormed against the plans of UK climate change minister Ian Pearson, Oasis takes a fairly moderate stance on the environment. Miller told me: “We are very much aware of pollution here in Hong Kong. We do take this very seriously. The most important thing we’re looking at is, just as soon as we can, going into the newest technology of aircraft. We will look at offsetting whatever [carbon emissions] we contribute, and we’ll certainly join any industry-wide initiative.”

Miller, however, did not identify any specific plans to offset the airline’s contribution to climate change. Talking about the airline’s current thinking, he said:You contribute X amount of carbon and you plant Y trees, and we’re looking at all the options, something which is really meaningful.”

But Richard Dyer, a campaigner on aviation issues for Friends of the Earth, called the coming of long-haul budget travel “a very worrying development.”

“We can expect aviation’s climate changing emissions to grow even faster than they are already,” said Dyer. “There are no technical solutions on the horizon for decades that will radically cut aviation emissions.” So what are the best solutions for combating runaway climate change? Dyer is clear: “Abandoning plans to expand airports and introducing economic measures to manage demand.”

But for every pessimistic environmentalist, there’s an optimistic aviation executive. Steve Miller told me that outbound travel from China is poised to explode, thanks to new-found prosperity: “We are hitting this US$3,500-4,000 GDP per capita level in the Pearl River delta now, so there’s going to be a lot of stimulation [to travel] in those areas. We’re already seeing it.”

Miller said that currently: “60-70% of [Oasis’] traffic originates in the U.K since people in the U.K. are already accustomed to what we’re trying to do.” But that is likely to change soon.

Citing an estimate of some 20 million outbound trips from mainland China at present, Miller called this “the tip of the iceberg.” According to Miller’s figure, less than 2% of China’s population travels abroad each year, but for developed countries, “the generally established figure for outbound travel is 10%.”

Few would deny that increased mobility for people of varying incomes is good in and of itself; the problem is this happening against the backdrop of an airline industry that has yet to face up to its role in carbon emissions and climate change.

Cheap ticket prices are sending people one signal at the same time that concerned scientists and policy makers are trying to send another. According to a recent Oxford University report, for example, airplane emissions already account for 5.5% of total UK carbon emissions – and they are growing fast.

This is the big picture: the ceaseless expansion of airports, a predicted explosion in private aviation, and little political will to treat airlines like other polluters (which is what the new EU regulations would do, oh-so-gradually).

But at the scale of everyday life, the question is what to think about “the fresh approach” of Oasis. What difference would it make to take a stand against budget airlines when there are no “green airlines” to fly with? Is this not a case where governments – or aviation giants like Boeing, Airbus and the engine manufacturers – have to act before ordinary people can reasonably be expected to?


Ross Perlin is a graduate student at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, focusing on the documentation and description of endangered languages.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




It's not my place to tell Chinese readers how to develop, but it's certainly high time that people in the west started thinking seriously about alternatives to air travel. One of many good examples can be seen here.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



telling people how to develop

Since Chinese regard pollution as a sign of progress and let their children (as well as themselves) deficate and urinate in public, as well as throw garbage out on the streets, it is our place and definitely my place to tell chinese people how to develop. I ruined a new pair of hiking shoes by stepping in human waste rigth outside of an old apartment near Shanghai's Chang Shu road subway station and have repeatedly dodged being hit by pitch pots being empited.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


跟笔者不一样, 现在大多数人都是因工出差, 所以一般都不愿意浪费时间乘座旅游轮渡 (船只上传播疾病和着火的机会和可能性更大)。轮船的废气排放和泄漏也会污染空气和水。其他诸如民用核潜艇和穿越俄罗斯,中亚,非洲和美洲的子弹头火车的替代方式还需要几十年的时间。同时,用来发动那些奇妙机器的能源都会产生污染。波音787可能是现在最好的方式,每次的飞行能减少20%-30%的燃料。

alternatives to travel

Unlike the author, many travelers these days are on business, whether for themselves or their companies and vacationers don't want to use their valuable time sitting on a cruise ship (which has a good chance of carrying a nasty disease or catching fire). And boats pollute as well, both air and water with emissions and leakage. The alternatives are still decades away: civilian nuclear subs, bullet trains traversing Russia, central Asia, Africa and the Americas. BTW, the energy needed to power those wonders all creates...pollution.

Boeings 787 is probably the best way to go for now, 20% to 30% less fuel on every flight. That's real results and Boeing is taking MD and the Europeans to the woodshed every day with this plane.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



the last comment

was by nanheyangrouchuan.
It is our place to tell china how to develop because China's industries are by themselves doing measurable harm to the world. Chinese lack of hygiene in their country is doing measurable harm to themselves.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


-提倡使用公共交通工具,不鼓勵私有交通工具。 - 每个国家应对本国的飞机或船只在國際领空或公海上所排放的废气按比例承担清理成本.

Solutions must be practical

Whatever the means of transportation, there would be inevitably producing emission as a result of fuel consumption. It is not realistic to stop people from moving around in consideration of a sustainable global economic development.

Some pragmatic suggestions include:

- for business purposes, use of video conference wherever possible instead of personel travelling.

- adoption of substitute & more efficient energy.

- encouraging mass/public transport instead of private vehicle ownership.

- individual countries should be accountable on pro rata cost basis for emission produced by their aviation/ship operators in international sky/public sea.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




re: alternatives to travel

I agree that more fuel-efficient airplanes like the 787 represent an important step. Airline and engine manufacturers must take the lead, but airlines (whether private or national) need to put pressure on them and work with them. The "practical solutions" listed above are a good program for citizens and governments in the meantime. I don't see why business travel should be exempt from any of this. In this article, I didn't touch on Oasis' business class strategy, or new all-business airlines like Eos, but the growth in business travel is of course also a significant part of the worldwide aviation boom.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


廉价航空公司的出现使更多的人能旅行,但是却使有效使用燃料更加困难。看看那些大型航空公司的头等舱,拜那些多余的瓷器,奢侈的织物,还有可以放平的躺椅所赐,大气中的温室气体更多了!!- Kahon

Low cost carriers

Low cost carriers allow more people to travel due to lowered barriers, but they also raise the bar of fuel efficiency in the industry. Look at the premium class of legacy carriers. Those redundant china, luxury fabrics and flat bed seats are adding more emission!! - Kahon

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



廉价航空“亚洲航空”(Air Asia)正在东南亚地区快速发展,(计划从今年开始开通从吉隆坡到伦敦的航线)中国国内的廉价航空也会很快出现。


Air passengers should pay full costs of flying

The growth of budget airlines in Asia is a worrying development - but only to be expected as the climate costs of air travel are not internalised either in developed or developing countries.

The budget line Air Asia is growing fast in South-East Asia (and plans to start flying Kuala-Lumpur to London this year), and we can expect new budget airlines to meet China's growing demand for internal tourism.

Efficiency gains through new technology will not be enough. Air travel must be included in any post-Kyoto framework so that the balance of costs is tipped towards rail and against air. China and other developing countries need to start managing their demand for air travel now so they don't end up with an unsustainable air travel industry - which is where Europe now finds itself.

- AS