The Wright brothers penned their names down in history when they built the first airplane which flew for 12 seconds. Thirteen years later, in 1936; the first passenger aircraft was produced with a capacity of 21 passengers. Since then, commercial flying has become a reality. However, it was a harsh reality because only an elite group of rich people had access to this luxurious life. In 1971, the first low budget airline, American company Southwest was launched. With the introduction of budget airlines into the market, flying became available to people of every class in society. The demand for air travel skyrocketed and the industry flourished. Thus, it is safe to say that rather than causing harm to the environment by contributing to global warming, the industry brings huge benefits in economical and social aspects and its presence is very much needed and welcomed in the travel sector.
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Throughout this essay, the term airline industry will be more commonly used than the term budget airlines as low cost airlines only represent a small fraction of the airline industry, not the whole industry. By looking at the bigger picture of the entire aviation industry, the impacts of the industry can be evaluated at a larger scale. Therefore, the overall impact of airlines on the environment and its benefits will be discussed rather than the effects of budget airlines alone. This essay will also focus on the airborne environment which comes more in contact with airline industry.
Beginning with the industrial revolution, air transport has gained popularity because it saves international travel time as transportation becomes a basic necessity. As a result, environmentalists argue that the airline industry no doubt highly contributes to carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere as one of the fastest-growing sectors given the extra boost from budget airlines. The Environmental Protection Agency shows that in 1997, the U.S. aviation emitted carbon dioxide which was roughly comparable to the carbon emissions of certain industrialised countries (General Accounting Office 2000). Carbon dioxide gas is emitted as a by product of the burning of aviation fuel. As the main greenhouse gas, excessive amount of emissions cause global warming to rise at an alarming state. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts the worldwide temperature to increase from 34.7 to 40.1 degrees between 1990 and 2100 (Bowe, Hartley & O’Connor 2004). The increase in Earth’s temperature brings about a chain of events, such as ice sheets and glaciers thawing, sparking a rise in sea levels and successive coastal flooding. In addition, the occurrence of tropical infectious diseases might increase in moderate climates. On the other hand, it is affirmed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that the carbon dioxide vented by aircrafts actually only rationalise for a small 3.5 percent of the worldwide emission, even less by the budget carriers. This contrasts with 41 percent for other industrial sources and 23 percent for other transportation sources (General Accounting Office 2000). Moreover, aircraft experts are taking on the responsibility to minimise the negative impacts of aeroplanes. Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the IATA, claims commercial air travel has made much bigger steps in its environmental impact reduction than any other form of transport (Wastnage,J 2007), by using cleaner aircrafts, new fuels and introducing more sustainable technologies. Thus, the industry cannot be solely accountable for global warming.
On the contrary, airlines pose huge positive implications on the travel industry and economy as a whole. Low cost carriers pilot the industry to act as a catalyst for employment in other sectors such as tourism. A total of 7.7 million direct occupations in global tourism and 6.0 million indirect professions in sectors providing to tourism are estimated to be sustained by the spending of international tourists reaching by air, amounting to about USD 90 billion a year to global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) based on the Air Transport Action Group’s (ATAG) report in 2008. Just as air travel is a vital component of tourism, tourism is in turn essential for economic growth. For example, in Africa, 25% of all tourism careers, an estimated 1.5 million occupations are supported by overseas visitors arriving via air (ATAG 2008). Giovanni Bisignani states in 2005 that tourism directly accounts for up to 50% of GDP in Pacific Air Travel Association (PATA) countries, and in Maldives, the sector accounts for 80% of the economy. Hence, the sector holds a vital role in facilitating the growth of travel and tourism which are key factors in the increasingly globalised world economy.
From a different perspective, this essay also takes into consideration a key group of stakeholder in the travel industry, the tourists themselves. Based on ATAG’s 2008 report, “travel and tourism provide substantial consumer welfare and social benefits”. The existence of the air transport industry itself is a manifestation of consumer welfare where the demand to travel globally using a safe and fast mode of transportation is met. Looking beyond that, with budget airlines leading the way in making international travel readily accessible via cheaper tickets, a broader choice of holiday destinations are made available. As local standards of living improve, international air travel from India, China and other surfacing markets is raising swiftly (ATAG 2008). This means that tourists are no longer limited to regional holiday destinations. Travelling halfway around the globe becomes more common now than ever before. This provides freedom to travel and it facilitates the exchange of cultural and learning experiences. By being exposed to different cultures while abroad, many experiences are broadened while the understanding of other cultures increases. Both of these result in the improvement of quality of life and aid in better international integration. Moreover, the expansion of multicultural societies is supported when airlines, especially budget airlines provide an affordable mean for immigrants to visit their friends and family back home and vice versa. For that reason, inexpensive flights would ensure a raise in the quality of life.
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As a whole, while budget airlines and airlines do contribute to many environmental issues, the percentage to involvement is relatively small and according to Philip Murray Condit, former CEO of Boeing, “it is the most environmentally friendly way to travel”. Comparatively, the airline sector provides jobs for millions resulting in the rise of global economy. Socially, airlines induce the popularity of international travel and enhance cultural knowledge in order to foster better intergovernmental ties. Overall, budget airlines as part of the industry plays an active role in the society, generating profitable gains for everyone while planning ahead to reduce its negative impacts. Bottom line, the airline industry, not forgetting the budget airlines are meant to stay for years to come.
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