Biofuels a solution? you're pulling my...

Let's be clear, we at Plane Stupid don't like getting our kit off, not in this sort of weather, but we're prepared to go to some lengths  to get word out about the bare faced cheek of biofuels.

The launch of the countries first commercial biofuel flight from Birmingham is a terrible departure for aviation. While the industry claim that biofuels offer a greener future for flights, respected environmental and social justice organisations from Friends of the Earth to The World Development Movement and Christian Aid believe that they will make a bad situation worse. Why?

Because waste veg oil as a solution just doesn't add up. Demand from road transport vehicles for recycled oil currently far outstrips supply. Optimistic estimates suggest that at best the UK produces enough waste veg oil to replace 0.6% of UK vehicle diesel. With road transport being much more efficient than flight, anyone with basic maths can see that used veg oils will never be a viable solution. A recent article in the aviation trade press highlighted that many insiders don't think the groundless hype will stand up to scrutiny either.

The first commercial biofuels flight launch followed a delay of some months, after Thomson found they couldn’t source enough used cooking oil even for one short haul flight a week from one airport. They ended up importing it from the States. Not only that, but they have recently announced, without explanation, that they won't be running the once a week commercial biofuel fights to Lanzeroti they proudly promised to the media and customers. They're now promising to run daily flights from the new year.

So what was the stunt all about? The industry is legally obliged to meet carbon reduction targets, and currently, biofuels are registered as being a way to collect carbon brownie points. This is despite widespread recognition that the only commercially used options are based on nasties like palm oil and jatropha, which have already been responsible for the trashing of vast tracts of rainforest. They are a massively inefficient way of making fuel that destroys the very ecosystems we need to control runaway climate change. While encouraging massive land grabs that rob the worlds poorest people of their homes and food. Thomson think that by softening up the public with recycled oil, they can get a nice green sheen on the term 'biofuels' before turning the system over to the neocolonialist disaster of mass plant oil imports.

Those of us who took part in the action had spoken directly to colleagues in Columbia the previous month who described the devastating impact palm oil production was already having on the forest they lived in. 7 hours in the cells and a charge of 'causing an annoyance' pass quickly when you can still hear their voices in your head.

Welfare cuts for the majority, more flights for the minority

Birmingham and Solihull councils have a month to decide whether to give the go ahead to Birminham Airports runway extension plans. To extend the runway, the plans are going to have to include the £32 million realignment of the A45, money in which the airport is relying on from the council. Both councils have until the 28th October to make a decision about whether to put this money in or not.

This is why they should NOT put the money in:

  • With a looming climate catastrophe ahead of us, and while most other industries and individuals are trying to make cuts in emissions, it is not just for the aviation industy to continue down the road of expansion.
  • Social welfare is being sacrificed on the god of corporate welfare - if the council decide to put the £32 million in towards the airport expanding, the money will come at an expense to services like local public transport, schools and social services.
  • The aviation industry continues to state they are simply responding to demand - this is clearly not true as we see adverts for cheap flights everywhere we go these days. Also, if people stopped flying on unnecessary flights domestically, ie from London to Manchester and London to Birmingham then we would straight away see a reduction in air passengers.
  • The increased noise impacts - there are many estates close to the airport which already suffer from the noise. An increase in air traffic is only going to make this worse.
  • Pollution levels - pollution levels are already really bad in areas around the airport, an increase in flights will add more kerosene and diesel into the air in the surrounding areas, making it an even more unpleasant place to live.

Birmingham airport buys second opinion

Second opinion

In the fast-moving world of aviation expansion, it's perfectly common for big business to spend loads-a-money producing crazy reports that claim extravagant benefits and underplay the costs. But Birmingham airport may have sunk to a new low: after its first report came to the wrong conclusions, it procured a second opinion.

According to the first report by experts at Liverpool University, expansion would bring health implications for children at 31 local schools, elderly people and anyone with circulatory or respiratory conditions. But the second report conveniently decided that there wouldn't be “any meaningful health outcome” from changes in air quality, while dismissing any chance of significant impact on children’s learning.

The airport claims it paid for the second report - an additional £10,000 on top of the original £50,000 - because the Liverpool authors refused to condense their report into snappy soundbite. Maybe that's true - or maybe the airport owner didn't like paying for a report that said the opposite of what they wanted to hear...