At the end of April, British Airways announced intentions to lay off 12,000 people, up to 30% of its workforce. Heathrow’s Chief Executive has warned that they may decide to follow suit, while on 20 May Rolls Royce — which constructs, among other things, airplane components — announced plans to make redundant 9,000, or 17%, of their global workforce.
Airbus is planning redundancies. Easyjet, a UK-based company, plans 4,500 redundancies, 30% of their workforce.
In 2018 it was estimated that the UK aviation sector directly employs 341,000 people. Bailouts to the tune of tens of billions have already been agreed across Europe and the USA.
Carbon emissions from aviation are high and have been growing. And affordable, low-emissions flights are not available, or likely soon.
Some environmentalists, such as Extinction Rebellion or George Monbiot say simply that aviation companies should not be “rescued”. Greenpeace, Labour, and Unite have lobbied for bailouts to have arms-length green strings attached.
There is a third alternative.
Environmentalists must neither abandon huge swathes of workers in the fight against climate change, nor rely on nudging the “free market” to make the needed transitions.
In the coming months and years, we can expect some demand for flights to grow, haltingly at first, and then to soar; and market forces to make the industry still lucrative for bosses.
To seriously rise to the challenges faced by climate change and an economic crisis, the labour movement must organise to demand aviation be taken into public ownership and under democratic control.
Workers in the industry should be guaranteed retraining and jobs in publicly owned green industries, as part of a “green recovery” to the current crisis. This must include an expansion and improvement of affordable, quality, and high-speed public transport to undercut flying.
A “green recovery” of some form even has significant support from many bourgeois economists, as better for the immediate interests of the economy — as they see them — as well as the environment.
The short-term re-opening, and medium-term radical shrinking, of the aviation industry should be done in a managed way. Older, less efficient crafts should be scrapped immediately. Flights which do operate must be done on the basis of need and use, not the business plans of the bosses of for-profit destructive industries.
Research and development arms should be kept open, but geared towards environmental sustainability.