When you get Michael O'Leary going on a hot topic such as the environment, the Ryanair founder and chief executive just does not shut up. At a press conference this morning in London, O'Leary went on like a broken record, reiterating Ryanair's stance on the environment, including its opposition to a controversial European Commission (EC) proposal to include aviation in its emissions trading scheme (ETS), and the UK's plans to double its air passenger duty (APD) from ｣5 ($9.66) to ｣10.
Ryanair has been in the spotlight in the UK since last week when it was called "the irresponsible face of capitalism" by UK environment minister Ian Pearson. Ryanair immediately fought back, pointing out the Dutch Consumer Organisation had recognised it as "Europe's cleanest and greenest airline". This week Ryanair is trying to keep its spin on the environment in the headlines by launching a buy one flight get a second for free sale that "celebrates being Europe's lowest fare and greenest airline".
The promotion, which will run from 11-18 January, will give away up to one million seats with Ryanair covering all the taxes. But wait a second - how is giving passengers who are already flying once over the next month free seats on a second flight they wouldn't normally take celebrate the environment? As several reporters pointed out, passengers will simply be persuaded to take frivolous journeys.
Of course that is not how O'Leary (pictured below at an earlier press conference) sees it. He responded the promotion will "encourage a lot of people to fly on Europe's greenest airline" instead of "Europe's polluters", his phrase for carriers that operate older-generation aircraft.
Ryanair now operates a fleet consisting entirely of new-generation Boeing 737-800s, a fact Pearson apparently was not aware of. "Clearly he doesn't know what he's talking about," O'Leary says, adding Pearson "probably was interviewed by the Guardian at a pub late at night".
O'Leary believes Pearson's description of Ryanair is part of a "scare story" politicians have fabricated to convince the public the fast-growing aviation sector is increasingly responsible for global warming. He thinks aviation is being singled out unfairly because, as a recent report by UK economist Nicholas Stern concluded, aviation accounts for only 1.6% of global green house emissions. Some politicians claim this figure will quickly double as the size of the aviation industry doubles, but O'Leary says they are ignoring the impact of new aircraft and engine technology. He claims even if the industry doubles in size advances in technology will ensure aviation's contribution to global greenhouse emissions stays below 2%.
"Aviation is not the cause of the problem," O'Leary says, adding nobody is attacking the rapid construction of new power stations in China."Why are we rolling around pulling wool out of our navels about cheap flights in Europe?" asks O'Leary. "It's not the case of the problem."
O'Leary does not think the proposed ETS is a potential solution because it "won't do anything to reduce the impact on the environment". Instead he calls ETS "another means of taxing the ordinary passenger".
Meanwhile, O'Leary says he has written to UK treasury chief Gordon Brown to ask him to withdraw the planned 100% increase in the APD and explain where the extra ｣1 billion in revenues the higher ticket tax will generate will go. "Stop taxing cheap flights," O'Leary urges, pointing out business class passengers pay the same amount. "If you want to tax someone, tax the rich."
Ryanair expects its ｣28 average fare will increase to ｣33 at the beginning of February, when the larger APD tax will be implemented. Certainly this will not be the last time we hear from O'Leary whining on this or just about any other topic impacting the aviation industry.