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Grounding of planes has brought relief for many and dramatic cuts in aviation emissions

20th April, 2010

The eruption of the Icelandic volcano at Eyjafjallajökull, which has grounded air traffic across Europe over the past six days, has doubtless caused significant local environmental damage as well as inconveniencing both passengers and freight operators.

But the temporary halt in air traffic has not only allowed some of those living near flight paths their first good night’s sleep in years, it has also prevented over a million tonnes of CO2 being emitted from aircraft.

Within four days of the volcano sending up the plume of ash that quickly spread across European skies and led to the cancellation of around half of all flights to and from Europe, 1.3 million tonnes of aircraft CO2 had been had been saved, we calculated – more than the annual emissions from Malawi or Sierra Leone. Our figures were published yesterday by The Times and have subsequently been used in many media reports.

Meanwhile many people, including some who had never before realised how much aircraft noise intruded into their lives, have been enjoying uninterrupted sleep, the sound of birdsong in the morning, and the chance to enjoy sunny afternoons outdoors.

With a surge in the take-up of intercontinental rail travel, and EU transport ministers meeting by videoconference, this is perhaps an opportunity to remember that there are other ways to travel and do business, and that cuts in air traffic need not bring the world to a standstill.