Peak Oil and Air Travel

With the recent bankruptcy filings of six airlines (ATA, Oasis Hong Kong, Aloha, Skybus, Frontier and Champion) in the past two weeks, the issues of climate change and peak oil dominate media reporting. Local journalists are calling transportation planners and policy-makers to task, suggesting that their focus should not be committing more resources to infrastructure developments that support the airline industry as it exists today. Air travel has been subsidized by government,  but environmental
realities can no longer be ignored.

In a BBC report in 2004, experts from the University of York’s Stockholm Institute recommended that trips of less than 400 miles by taken by train and that visitors access airports by public transit. Even with the introduction of new more fuel-efficient airplanes like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, the rising cost of oil may force airlines to drastically change the prices and schedule of flights. Governments and consumers need to
choose alternative energy sources and methods of travel that reduce
their carbon footprint.

The success of Eurostar in transforming short-haul travel in Europe is worth noting in this conversation. Just over a decade ago, the company began operations, overcoming differences in rail networks between the UK, France and Belgium (including power supplies, signalling and ticketing systems) to now connect over 100 cites throughout Europe. Independent research commissioned by Eurostar concluded that flying from London to Paris or Brussels produces 10 times more carbon dioxide than taking the train. Interestingly, Eurostar is committed to reducing their carbon footprint 25% per person per journey by 2012.