UK Government unveils £4.3m subsidies for domestic flights, despite green backlash
Just weeks after cutting air passenger duty for short-haul flights, in a move broadly dubbed hypocritical in light of national net-zero targets, the UK Government has announced up to £4.3m in additional funding for domestic flight routes.
The new funding, announced today (22 November), will support flights between London and Newquay and London and Dundee. It will be allocated over a two-year period, through public service obligations (PSOs), with up to £1.8m going to Cornwall Council and up to £2.5m for Dundee City Council.
The Dundee route has already operated for several years and, before the funding was confirmed, there were concerns that the route would be scrapped by airline Loganair. The Cornwall route is reopening following a break and will be operated by Eastern Airways, with the first services due to take off on 9 December. Both routes will run until at least 2023 due to the finding.
In a statement, the Government has justified the decisions by stating that they will be “a major boost for regional links across the UK” and that they will “create hundreds of jobs and keep people connected as we build back better from the pandemic”. It has also been stated that the flight routes will be in place only while work continues to improve transport connectivity by other modes, including rail.
However, the move will likely be extremely unpopular across the UK’s green economy, in light of the UK’s net-zero target and position as COP26 host.
At last month’s Budget statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was widely criticised for making the return leg of domestic flights exempt from air passenger duty requirements. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was then slammed for taking a flight from Glasgow to London after the World Leaders Summit at COP26, seemingly in support of Sunak’s decision. He travelled to and from Glasgow by train for his second appearance at the twelve-day climate summit.
Cornwall Council’s cabinet member for transport Philip Desmonde has stated that “while connectivity is vital, we must seek to minimise the impact of air travel on the environment”. He emphasised the UK Government’s commitment to delivering net-zero domestic aviation by 2040 and net-zero international aviation by 2050, under the Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
That Plan relies heavily on efficient vehicles and alternative fuels to decarbonise aviation. There is no mention of stopping airport expansion or capping growth in passenger numbers – a measure recommended by the Government’s own advisory body, the Climate Change Committee (CCC).