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Stelios Flies By The Seat Of His Pants

At the conference “The politics of climate change : from economic crisis to business revolution” on 5th June 2009, Stelios Haji-Ioannou ended up flying by the seat of his pants.

“I’m usually [cast as] the Devil. People are trying to find a high-profile industry [to target]…[they choose] airlines.”

He tried to reclaim the “social good” high ground, “I think we have a good story to tell. It’s not like tobacco…If you think travel should be taxed out of extinction…some people think we should go back to living in caves…holiday [within] three hundred miles of where they [live]. Travel is a force for good. A force for peace.” He ignored the oxymoron in that statement.

At that point Matthias Machnig came onto the stage. He had flown in and was late. Stelios asked, “Don’t tell me it was by EasyJet”. “No”, Matthias replied, “it was British Airways”. There was a hall full of laughter.

Stelios resumed his thesis, “I think low cost is as environmentally friendly as you can get. Modern aircraft…” at which point somebody who had been playing with the environmental controls for the room managed to dim the lights until they went out completely…”environmentally friendly”, commented Stelios.

He went back to eulogising his cheap-and-cheerful service, “people are packed in [like sardines ? making the flights efficient].”

He commented on the possibility of airline taxes by critiquing it. “Politicians should look at incentives”, he said, “and it’s the engine that pollutes, not the passengers. Tax the engine, not the people. Cheaper, more environmentally friendly”.

During the question time at the end of the session, somebody asked “what are the technological possibilities for [fuel efficiency] improvement in aviation ?”

Stelios answered, “private jets are not environmentally friendly. With the planes I buy, there are only two companies in the world that make them. It’s a small industry. [When developing a new aircraft they] usually get it wrong [and that’s a risk]. In the next 5 to 10 years we will have the next generation of aircraft. If we say that we need to cut Carbon Dioxide emissions by 50% – there are no free lunches in engineering. You either have to give up speed (for example, think about that white elephant Concorde, an icon of design but [drank fuel]), or you take a lot of time to travel. I’m not sure you can have a Zero Carbon aircraft. I don’t believe in biofuels – bit of a fudge.”

So if people insist on flying everywhere at the same speed, then the conclusion is that if we need to reduce aviation emissions by 50%, then there will need to be half the flights there are currently.

Or we all need slower-moving lighter-than-air airships. You know, blimps.

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