Environmental Groups Unhappy With BMed's Wasted Emissions
If you want to know how
precious landing slots are at London's Heathrow Airport, consider
the following. Six nights a week, a British Mediterranean Airways
(BMed) Airbus A320 departs Heathrow, bound for neighboring Cardiff.
It then flies back to Heathrow, to repeat the process once again.
Here's the punchline: no tickets are sold, and the 124 passenger
seats remain empty on each leg.
The flights -- which cost the airline $5,000 in fuel for each
leg, and nearly $600,000 each month for lease, maintenance, crew
and insurance charges -- don't show up on any schedule, and the
airline doesn't collect any revenue. And the flights continue...
since BMed, which flies as a British Airways franchise, doesn't
want to lose those precious slots at Heathrow.
The London Times reports if the slots go unused -- if BMed
didn't fly its empty plane -- they could be reallocated to other
carriers. And that's something BA, which controls 40 percent of the
landing slots at Heathrow, is unwilling to do.
In addition to, perhaps, being an affront to common sense...
environmentalists have attacked BMed for the so-called "ghost"
flights. In the five months the airline has flown empty planes
along the 140-mile route, the planes have kicked an amount of CO2
pollution equivalent to 36,000 automobiles into the air.
The Times reports each flight produces 5.21 tons of CO2. All but
the most zealous environmental groups concede such a figure is
acceptable, if the flight is full -- as the CO2 produced on a
per-passenger basis is relatively low. It's a decidedly different
animal if the seats are deliberately kept empty.
"It’s quite shocking," says Graham Thompson of the
environmental advocacy group Plane Stupid. "These ghost flights
very much undermine the greenwash we get from the airlines on how
they are going to protect the environment. This shows that they are
willing to sacrifice the climate for a profit."
It's worth noting again that BMed loses a substantial chunk of
change each time the empty Airbus takes flight... but the airline
considers it the price to pay for keeping its slots at Heathrow.
All 1,250 time slots, with the exception of some late-night
openings, are spoken for... and are guarded zealously.
BMed flies eight planes, to such noted vacation destinations as
Tehran, Beirut, Armenia and Azerbaijan (the Times notes the airline
is colloquially known as "BA with balls.") Originally, the carrier
used the Cardiff slots to fly to Uzbekistan... but was forced to
end that run in October, due to civil unrest.
"The Uzbek market had really collapsed, but we knew we would
want to use those timings again this summer," BMEd CEO David
Richardson explains. "It wasn’t the ideal thing to do, but we
wanted to keep hold of it."
"It is possible to do it more cheaply than we have done -- in
theory," Richardson continues. "Our difficulty was that with the
timings we had we needed an airport that was open all night. We
looked at the alternatives, including Manston, and Cardiff was the
Richardson adds the airline could
have used a smaller plane on the trip, but chose the A320 in the
interest of keeping airport officials happy.
"You could use any type of plane, but the airport gets a little
upset with you if you use a little Piper Warrior, say. We did not
want to get on the wrong side of the airport on that, so we used
the Airbus," he said.
Tony Juniper, vice-chairman of Friends of the Earth
International, proposes BMed -- and other airlines that may chose
to fly empty planes to retain landing slots -- should be fined,
unless they agree to be charged an extra fee to offset the flight's
"It's nuts. The government should take immediate steps to stop
the practice," Juniper said. "Clearly if a plane is full it can
claim to be energy efficient, but flying empty planes is
Alas, it's a madness that may only get worse in the future... as
Heathrow slots are bound to become even more precious if a proposed
"Open Skies" deal between the US and European Union goes through.
More airlines would be allowed into Heathrow under the proposal...
driving the price for landing slots even higher.