With a vaccine and group immunity approaching, the question arises as to whether we will again start to travel as much as we would like to. Or even more than that; that we’re going to make up for our travel shortfall, as you hear many people announce. Especially for aviation, it is an existential question. The aviation sector itself estimates to be back to its old level around 2024. I guarantee you that this will be the case long before then. And that’s a problem because for the time being flying remains the sector that is most difficult to make sustainable.
There is now much ado about the international business traveler who apparently has discovered that there is such a thing as video conferencing. But I can assure you that they knew that for a long time already. Back then, when you would hear them complain about the busy itinerary, they already secretly used those business trips as tourism all this time, disguised in a tie or suit. Doesn’t every company have its own Chief Pleasure Trips Officer? The fact is that many employees see an international field of work as a secondary employment condition. And to be honest, a lot of international work really cannot be virtualized.
Flying is so cheap because it does not require expensive infrastructure, which implicitly makes it flexible and scalable.Carlo van de Weijer
However, the vast majority of air passengers consists of tourists and the strongly growing group of so-called VFR trips: Visiting Friends and Relatives. The latter is a consequence of an increasingly intertwined world, and there is no reason to assume that it will become less so. The same applies to tourism. Last week Elske Doets, director of Doets Reizen, told fd.nl that travel is becoming more expensive and elitist and that this is fine. That is a misplaced and especially wrong point of view. Traveling makes everyone happy and will remain cheap, even if society would finally succeed in taxing flying fairly. The reason: flying is so cheap because it does not require expensive infrastructure, which implicitly makes it flexible and scalable.
Stopping traveling is not an option, nor is it desirable. It is much better for the world that people meet each other, instead of getting to know each other through increasingly polarizing colored information channels. But what can we do about the enormous environmental impact of flying? More trains doesn’t mean less flying, as you often hear. More trains mostly just means more travel. Moreover, if it requires extra tracks, it damages the environment even more than flying. Investing in international trains is like developing an improved VCR because Netflix appears to use too much energy. Instead of making video streaming more energy efficient.
“Investing in international trains is like developing an improved VCR because Netflix seems to use too much energy, instead of making video streaming more energy efficient.”Carlo van de Weijer
Sooner or later we will fly on CO2-neutral synthetic kerosene, and perhaps electrically at shorter distances. I see no other sensible solution than to speed up that process. For example, by increasing the general CO2 tax, and investing in the development of those circular fuels. The Netherlands can lead the way in this by combining our strong position in high-tech, the petrochemical industry, and energy technology.
A recent study carried out by the Ministry of Transport showed that the majority of people want less aviation after the pandemic. But the same research showed that most people do not want to fly less. That sums it all up. We will retravel.