Editorial: Air travel is back almost to normal and that is not an entirely bad thing

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News Letter editorial on Monday July 10 2023:

​​A pressure group has called for measures to be introduced to try to cut the number of flights that are taken. The Campaign for Better Transport wants airlines to have to provide "realistic travelling times" for flights and to reverse the Air Passenger Duty cut.

Air travel is fast returning to pre pandemic levels. It was unclear if this would happen: UK air passenger travel plunged after the 2020 lockdown. Even as restrictions were eased in 2021 the number of flights taken was a fraction of that prior to the Covid outbreak. Even last year numbers were notably down on 2019. But now, in 2023, air traffic is almost back to normal levels.

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So, in the same way that many observers wondered whether mask wearing would remain a feature of daily life after coronavirus as a way not to spread germs (it didn’t) and as they also wondered whether city centres would revive after the onset of home working (they are reviving), so it seems that the desire to fly is returning too. This is good in that flying is one of the key human inventions and has enabled much of the world to do something that once only the rich could do, travel and enjoy the world. At the same time, it is clear that flying is particularly polluting.

Activists are right to highlight total travel time. It can mean that flying from Manchester to London is no quicker that a train, city centre to city centre. This is an argument for the HS2 rail link in England - to make trains even more appealing. Places such as Northern Ireland, however, are much more dependent on flying.

There will not be a major retreat from air travel. The main way to cut emissions will be via technological advance: ever more fuel efficient travel, ever improving solar power, ever more carbon neutral homes, and overcoming the almost superstitious aversion (particularly on this island) to nuclear power.