As an exercise, ponder for yourself: what is good, and what is bad, about aviation? The table below offers a list, compiled after more than a decade of aiREFORM efforts. Is this the whole list? Are there any other ‘goods’ or ‘bads’ to aviation?
|Aviation ‘PROs’:||Aviation ‘CONs’:|
aviation is the fastest way to cover long distances.
|Because it remains heavily dependent on fossil fuel consumption, aviation is also the fastest way to expand your personal carbon footprint. If you fly as a passenger, the most efficient commonly-used commercial aircraft are comparable (in carbon output) to making your trip using an efficient small car loaded with four people; but, the airplane is roughly ten times faster … thus, each hour of flight consumes roughly ten times the fossil fuels to achieve ten times the distance. Your carbon impact is much faster.|
a tiny percentage of the world population has the privilege of experiencing a more diverse world. This enriches some lives. If we ignore the carbon impacts, aviation enables a hyper-mobility that was unimaginable to our ancestors.
|The carbon footprint of air travel is enormous, but modern marketing helps us to ignore that fact. Air travel ‘escapes’ are marketed intensively, and this marketing pressure distracts us from taking action to protect our home communities from ongoing degradation. We need to do more to focus LOCALLY, to ensure our home communities provide local parks and nature, as well as local economic diversity that makes us less dependent on carbon-intensive air travel.|
|Health & Wellness:
Vacations are normally restorative, and travel away from snow to sunny warm beaches can have great benefits to people in winter. Societal health is enhanced, too, so long as cultures are truly mixing and meeting, without unjust inequities being applied.
|People can travel, but in the process they transport and share viruses and other diseases, like COVID-19. As we have seen in recent years, the COVID variants rapidly deploy to all corners of the world, due to aviation. It does not help that the profit-driven airline industry has designed crowded spaces, at airports and within airplane ‘tubes’, that are excellent for respiratory infection transmission. Commercial aviation has a long history of contributing to viral transmission (e.g., SARS, Ebola, COVID; see ‘Health Hazards of Air Travel’ at [wiki]).|
some would suggest, air travel may offer a ‘peace dividend’, by increasing connection and ‘caring’ across cultural and political boundaries, thus helping to inoculate against xenophobia.
|The current condition of our world strongly suggests: there is no such thing as an air travel ‘peace dividend’. Granted, the vast majority of people are good, but it only takes a tiny fraction of bad players to ruin a good thing. Frankly, it is just as easy to argue that air travel facilitates ‘see and conquer’ greed and aggression, enabling the bad players among us to take from others.|
air cargo enables rapid air-shipment of fresh produce, and various products. Facilitates hyper-consumption of goods.
|But, aviation also enables the transport of drugs, weapons, illegal goods, sex workers, forced labor, etc. And, again, the aviation carbon footprint is enormous and too-often ignored. As we watch the planet warm up and our weather events amplify, why are we subsidizing aviation to continue to expand its carbon footprint? Why are we not putting more emphasis on diversifying the local economy to be LESS dependent on air cargo? Is it time to recognize that hyper-consumption is a bad idea, in a finite world?|
it is undeniably an awesome experience, the first time a person flies and sees their home below, like a model landscape. This can benefit people, to understand a larger world.
|But, this same benefit is better achieved using aerial cameras to create high quality imagery. Recorded footage can be created using drones, which have a much lower noise and pollutant impact. And, the footage is perpetual, so the experience can be shared anywhere and with anyone who wants to see it. Consider Grand Canyon: the experience is best in two parts… being there on the rim, supplemented with viewing a quality IMAX movie; the experience is severely diminished by helicopter air tour noise.|
aircraft can be safely handled in ways that create adrenaline rushes and fear attacks, both for passengers and people watching below. This includes not just air tours low over the rim of the Grand Canyon, but also skydiving, aerobatics and other recreational aviation activities.
|The impacts upon those below are significant, especially noise and fear/stress reactions. Plus, too often, the margin of safety is cut too thin, leading to fatal accidents. Hundreds have died in Grand Canyon aviation accidents.|
|Community Change & Economic Growth:
the construction and expansion of airports includes an infusion of money, much of it from federal fees and taxes. Many jobs are created, both short-term (for construction), and long-term (eventual airport jobs). Opportunities for redevelopment are created, as residential and agricultural properties are replaced with airport and commercial development.
|Residents and farmers in the path of airport development bear the brunt of impacts. They endure decades of stress while their properties become increasingly less inhabitable. The airport-related pollutants and the traffic congestion destroy previously idyllic places. Homes become run-down rentals. Commercial blight sets in, including seedy lodging, and expansive rental car and parking lots. Businesses catering to air travelers emerge, often with larger crime problems: nude bars, pawn shops, liquor stores and pot shops, and lots of empty shops abandoned due to the blight. Property values drop, making it that much easier for federal funds to buy even more airport lands.
Keep in mind: all this money spent on airports could be spent otherwise, also generating jobs, but with far less negative impacts.
aviation assets are a proven VERY effective way for one group to aggressively dominate over others. The nations using the most advanced aviation weaponry tend to dominate other nations.
|War and aggression are not good, and aviation’s ‘dark side’ includes that its history shows it to be a poster child for both. For our future, we all need to evolve past both war and aggression. And that means bringing aviation into balance with the rest of humanity.|
Scan again through the table above and notice these facts:
- the list of benefits from aviation is actually quite small.
- the biggest benefits are achievable with a much lower impact, if we align our policies toward a sustainable future and away from excessive fossil fuel consumption: higher taxes on fossil fuels and hyper-mobility, incentivizing the use of drones where superior to manned flight, .
- for most of the above, the pros are more than offset by the cons.
Aviation does provide pleasure for a tiny elite of the world population, but even for many of these wealthier people, the pleasures are often hollow. Sure, we can travel as often and as far as we can afford. The most elite among us can even own a large personal jet, kept at the ready for wherever and whenever we want to fly; we can have lunch in London and be at a party in LA that night. But, in the end, we are all mortal, and when we die it is nice to know we left a world with great potential for the next generations, not overly diminished by our excess. Moderation is good, especially in consumption.
And, let’s be clear: there are billions of happy residents of Planet Earth, who will never fly in an airplane. They are happy and living simpler lives, fulfilled with their connection to family, to their community, and to their home environment. Ultimately, happiness and fulfillment cannot be bought; they happen from living, not from spending. And nobody should be forced to suffer diminished health and quality of life, solely to indulge those few who choose to benefit from aviation.