Pressure group urges higher air taxes to penalise 'rich' flyers

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The Government should impose more green taxes on aviation because flying is "primarily an activity of the rich," according to a study.

In a hard-hitting report published today, the anti-poverty pressure group the World Development Movement warns ministers they will fail to achieve big enough cuts in carbon dioxide emissions unless they halt the planned growth in aviation in Britain.

It accuses the Government of subsidising the aviation industry by £10.4bn a year - £173 for every man, woman and child - through tax reliefs and airport expansion. "The UK Government's support for the expansion in aviation contradicts its rhetoric on tackling climate change and global poverty," it says.

The report, Dying on a Jet Plane, claims: "Flying is an activity dominated primarily by the rich. The richest 18 per cent of the UK population are responsible for 54 per cent of flights, while the poorest 18 per cent are responsible for just 5 per cent. The average salary of passengers at UK airports is £48,000."

The study dismisses claims that the recent growth in flying has been due to people on lower incomes taking advantage of cheaper air fares. It says the number of trips from UK airports by passengers earning less than £14,374 a year fell from more than eight million in 2000 to seven million in 2004, while the number made by people earning over £28,750 rose from 28.8 million to 36.5 million in the same period.

According to the group, existing subsidies should be redirected to provide cavity wall insulation for UK households in fuel poverty; provide electricity to every household in the world lacking it and halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and in sub-Saharan Africa.

It calculates that Britain needs to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 90 per cent by 2050 to make its contribution to the global fight against climate change - a much bigger reduction than the Government's 60 per cent target.

"Government action now to at least halt the growth in emissions from UK aviation should therefore be viewed as a critical part of the overall effort to tackle climate change," it says.

The report could provide useful ammunition for the Conservative Party, which last week proposed a "green air miles" scheme for higher taxes on people who take more than one short-haul flight each year.

David Cameron told his party's spring conference in Nottingham yesterday: "The truth is that you can't be serious about climate change unless you're serious about aviation.

"We don't have to stop people flying. But we have to take action on emissions."

But Mr Cameron was accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that he used a private plane to fly 93 miles from Oxford to Hereford to meet a businessman who was designing a new wheelchair for his disabled son, Ivan. A spokesman for Mr Cameron said the journey was one of only two private flights the Tory leader took last year and that he offset the carbon emissions from them.