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First Airbus A380 ‘superjumbo’ lands at Heathrow

There was lots of publicity about the Airbus A380 ‘super jumbo’ landing at Heathrow on 18th May. The event gave AEF and others the opportunity to raise the environmental issues of aviation as a whole.

There was lots of publicity about the Airbus A380 landing at Heathrow on 18th May. Members of AEF were in inundated with media enquiries and several of our members and associates were interviewed on radio and TV.Of itself, Airbus is not a particularly important environmental issue – it is of more interest for the commercial implications for aircraft manufacturers and airlines. However, the event gave us opportunities to raise the environmental issues of aviation as a whole.The industry and media made play of the claims that Airbus is considerably more fuel-efficient (in terms of fuel used per passenger km) than other large planes such as the Boeing 747 (‘jumbo’). This may be correct, but it must be remembered that jumbos came into service some 30 years ago. If one looks at fuel efficiency trends, the rate of improvement is now only about 1% pa. With growth in air travel at around 5% pa, this means that fuel consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases are going up by about 4% pa.

The industry also claimed that the fuel consumption of the aircraft was no greater (in term of passenger km) than a small car. This may be correct, but it is irrelevant. One does not jump into a car and drive 8,000 miles! Car trips and long-haul flights are not alternatives.

There was, predictably, great play about the economic benefits of building Airbus. But examination of the figures does not support this. The figure of 13,000 jobs involved in building Airbus is infinitesimal compared with the labour market in the UK of over 20 million. And the sales value of £11 billion is also very small if one compares it to the total UK economy which is over a trillion pounds – £1000 billion – every year. The implication that even these small figures are all gains is also misleading. One has to allow for all the costs of Airbus, including the cost of resources and labour diverted from other sectors of the economy before one can derive an estimate of any economic benefit of Airbus.

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