Climate change: Even aviation insiders can see the problem with adding more UK routes – Alastair Dalton

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Covid has had a huge toll on Scotland’s biggest airline – and it’s reacting with some pretty extreme measures.

A key part of Easyjet’s business is flying holidaymakers across Europe. Except, that’s pretty much not happening because of the pandemic, certainly from Britain.

That’s come on top of Easyjet’s press-tax losses more than tripling last winter to £701 million.

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The airline’s “cash burn” – its words, not some tabloid shorthand – has amounted to more than £5.5m a day.

EasyJet has announced a series of new UK routes this summer after Covid restrictions severely curtailed European travel. (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)EasyJet has announced a series of new UK routes this summer after Covid restrictions severely curtailed European travel. (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)
EasyJet has announced a series of new UK routes this summer after Covid restrictions severely curtailed European travel. (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

It has become the UK’s worst affected carrier, according to pilots’ union Balpa, with passenger numbers 88 per cent down this month on pre-pandemic levels two years ago.

So how has Easyjet reacted, with the bottom falling out of its core leisure market?

It appears to have been a case of “Let’s just fly anywhere we can”, with a series of new UK routes, the latest dozen of which last week included links already served by other airlines.

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Some of those routes, which are due to start next month, involve Scottish airports, such as Inverness to Newquay and Aberdeen to Bristol.

Much of the travel industry operates in a commercial world, so it’s not surprising airlines are turning wherever they can to recoup lost revenue and keep their aircraft and crews in the air.

But hold on a minute, aren’t we in the midst of a climate emergency, and isn’t the aviation industry bending over backwards to stress its – limited – green credentials?

For its rivals within the UK, the gloves are now off in that regard.

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Scotland-London train operator LNER unveiled black sand sculptures as part of its starkest campaign yet to highlight how much more polluting air travel is over rail.

As for Easyjet’s specific expansion, its rare to be sent unsolicited reaction to such announcements from environmental groups.

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However, this time Greenpeace weighed in, and didn’t pull its punches.

John Sauven, its UK executive director, said Easyjet’s latest announcement showed it would not “prioritise our planet's health over profits” until forced to by law.

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However, I’m hearing the most withering criticism of Easyjet’s opportunism is coming from within aviation itself.

As one source put it to me, the new routes come just as the industry is urging the UK Government to cut air passenger duty for domestic [UK] flights by pledging to “act sensibly and meet our environmental obligations”.

But they added bitterly: “This just blows holes in our arguments.”

Now, Easyjet would argue that with staycations pretty much our only current holiday option, its new routes are simply responding to that anticipated demand.

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But wouldn’t it be ironic if those flights suddenly disappeared as soon as European travel restrictions are eased and the aircraft are redeployed there?

Easyjet UK country manager Ali Gayward said the new routes would “further strengthen our UK domestic network”, so perhaps that won’t happen.

But is encouraging more people to fly within Britain a good thing?

Reacting to the announcement, Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar sounded strangely equivocal: "We want people to make informed choices about their travel and we know Easyjet share a similar viewpoint on the need to do what we can to deliver a sustainable future for aviation.”

Others will judge whether its actions match its words.

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