Letters: Open skies

Open up the skies for greater choice and cheaper flights

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Sir: Surely it is time that the interests of the few carriers who benefit from the current anachronistic Heathrow restrictions are put to one side and the interests of the consumer put first.

Heathrow passengers are limited to 12 cities to fly to directly in the USA, with a choice of two UK carriers. The proposed deal between the EU and US would allow flights by any European carrier from any point in Europe to any point in the USA, a major benefit to both passengers and carriers on the European side ("UK to oppose open-skies proposals", 7 March).

The suggestion that the deal is not acceptable because it denies European carriers the opportunity to carry passengers within the USA is a red herring. To operate short domestic sectors with wide-bodied aircraft is uneconomic. That is why no US carriers currently operate such services within Europe, even though they have long had the rights to do so. Long-haul airlines prefer to connect with their European alliance partners' short-haul services. No European carrier has expressed serious interest in adding US domestic sectors to transatlantic services other than to put up a smokescreen to prevent the first step in what must inevitably be a phased process of liberalisation.

Those who call for an "all or nothing" approach know full well that this will guarantee no change to the current bizarre limitations from Heathrow. It took three phases and 10 years to liberalise European aviation. This deal will provide more choice of carriers and destinations for consumers, lower prices and significant economic benefits to Europe as a whole. The protectionist rhetoric of the two UK airlines who benefit from the current restrictions should be seen as nothing more than an attempt to maintain their stranglehold at Heathrow and the inflated fares that they are able to charge.

When considering this proposed deal, the UK government should be taking into account the interests of UK plc and the travelling public, and should be paying a little less attention to the protection of the two UK airlines who are doing their best to ensure the deal is rejected. The current proposals have wide European member state and US government support. A rejection of the deal by the UK government would see it increasingly isolated and undermine its liberalising credentials. This could have repercussions well beyond the aviation sector.



New crops offer workable biofuels

Sir: We agree with Daniel Howden ("The big green fuel lie", 5 March) that current methods of bio-ethanol production are not a panacea in the search for sustainable transport fuels.

Although the deficiencies of the US corn ethanol programme are evident we must not let this blind us to the realisable benefits of new and improved ways of generating liquid fuels from biological sources. Plants and in particular the inedible fibrous component are largely unexplored as a source of liquid fuel even though, for example, 4 billion dry tonnes are produced as an agricultural by-product annually. We calculate that technological advances in fuel production will enable 75 per cent of the energy locked in the plant to end up in the biofuel. This could provide of the order of a third to a half of current global transport fuel demand.

Conventional crop science has resulted in astonishing gains in food yields. We anticipate that biofuels will follow a similar, but accelerated course through the development of specific crops. These crops are likely to be fast-growing woody and grass species which, allied to new microbial, thermal and chemical processing will produce liquid fuels with improved properties, such as butanol.

We believe that these opportunities offer the world a chance to develop sustainable systems that have minimal impact on the climate, support local ecosystems and economies and offer sustainable development. Transition to such a future will take time, but that makes it all the more important that we begin now.



Sir: Your coverage of the ethanol question is timely and appropriate. The massive diversion of land and water resources into fuel production could be wildly destructive to wildlife and human culture. While being carbon "neutral" the widespread use of ethanol will shape agriculture on a huge scale and will have its own effects on climate.

If there is a future in alternative fuels it lies in the management of fuels from multiple sources (various biological, some mineral). The difficult but very achievable technology is in vehicles where the engines can both recognise and manage the fuel accordingly.

Essentially we don't need a single solution. Ethanol is an answer but must never be seen as the answer.



A good kicking for the jobless

Sir: Having given asylum seekers a good kicking it is now the turn of the work-shy.

In Weymouth, some years ago, we had a Job Centre. It was a truly excellent place, not far from the town centre. Anyone could walk in and browse the many jobs detailed on cards on display boards. There was staff on hand, sitting behind friendly desks, ready to discuss any issue from training to interview tips.

Then came Job Centre Plus. My daughter, who was still at school, saw advertised a part-time job at the Co-op. She was told all recruiting was being done through the local Job Centre. So where was the Job Centre now? Eventually we happened across a small sign on the corner of a council building close to nowhere.

My wife decided to accompany this youngster on her first encounter with officialdom. On entering, they were accosted by an aggressive member of staff who inquired their business. My daughter was directed to an armoured glass booth; my wife was told to leave, immediately, or she would be ejected by force. No, no accompanying parents allowed; and no loitering outside either.

My daughter eventually got to shout at a supremely uninterested person behind a thick glass screen. On hearing that she had come for a job, this person looked bewildered, then went away to fetch a form that seemed to have no relevance to any particular job. After this form was duly filled in my daughter was instructed to leave. And nothing more was heard.

If we want the unemployed to get jobs maybe we should help them to find jobs.



Sir: Dominic Lawson (6 March) points to American welfare reforms as evidence of the importance of "sticks" in increasing employment rates for lone parents. But evidence suggests that it was the carrots of greater childcare support, and policies to make work pay, coupled, as he suggests, with a booming economy, that had the real impact.

Sticks were effective at reducing the welfare rolls, but for a policy designed to tackle child poverty they are a dangerous measure; child poverty rates in the US have recently risen substantially. And perhaps most worryingly, many parents have simply disappeared from the system, unable to find work but no longer entitled to any assistance from the state - there are now around 2 million children living with mothers in this "no work, no welfare" group.

David Freud's review of welfare offers plenty of sticks but few carrots. We hope that when the Government considers his proposals it will look to America and learn from the damaging impact that punitive policies have had on single parents' children there.



Sir: Dave Hansell (letter, 6 March) portrays unemployed single parents as icons of society, raising their children heroically against all the odds and the dastardly government (and presumably those not-single parents who rarely get a mention in the current debate). In his scenario it is only unemployed single parents who not only do a brilliant job raising future good citizens but also doing the cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing and all manner of child care and domestic chores.

When does he think working parents (single or not) do all these things? They do them at night and on the weekends. They fit them in during lunch hours or early mornings. They use up their holidays. All these things are just as onerous to working parents.

I hope Dave does not think that parental couples share the household and child care chores. That would be a good fantasy but as a full-time working wife and mother I have no time to indulge in it because I am too busy bringing up the next generation to be good citizens and fitting in the washing, ironing, cooking and cleaning.



Foreign Office helps all Brits in trouble

Sir: It is wrong to suggest that the FCO's response to our missing embassy staff in Ethiopia is above and beyond what we would do for the "ordinary" citizen (Thomas Sutcliffe, 6 March).

We have a single high standard of care which we apply to all British citizens overseas. Of course FCO staff feel strongly about this case because it is their colleagues, friends and families who have gone missing and we have a duty of care to staff who serve HMG overseas, often in dangerous circumstances. However, we are responding in the same way as we have responded to other kidnaps of British nationals.

In the last 12 months we have deployed rapid deployment teams on 10 separate occasions to help British nationals in distress, including the joint FCO/MOD operation to evacuate Britons from Lebanon last summer (in large numbers from a war zone).

It is vital that travellers consult our travel advice and check for the latest update. This advice is carefully drawn up and constantly reviewed. We expect that our own embassy staff observe the travel advice as closely as anyone else. As far as I am aware those who have gone missing in Ethiopia followed the relevant advice.



Fighting for equality, without dungarees

Sir: Although Deborah Orr (Opinion, 7 May) has encountered many people of different ages, genders and backgrounds who are happy to describe themselves as feminists, we are sad to say this hasn't always been our experience. The dungaree-wearing stereotype which she describes is of course ridiculous and out-dated, but that doesn't stop it looming large in the public imagination. One attribute of that mythical figure is that she hates men; Fawcett certainly feels it's high time this idea was consigned to the garbage can. We campaign for equality between women and men, and we are feminists.

There is no one definition of feminism that will include everyone's views, but the Fawcett Feminist Challenge is part of our campaign to reclaim the word "feminist" from its detractors, and show the range and variety of people that support real equality between women and men. By raising awareness that the pay gap still exists, that violence against women is at crisis levels, that women's caring roles are undervalued, that women are still missing from positions of power, we hope that on International Women's Day a few more people will be prepared to stand up for feminism with us.



Lottery for the Lords

Sir: Given all this talk about lottery selection, or random allocation as it is more accurately described, I am disappointed not to see it as the favoured option for the future House of Lords. What could be more democratic and more refreshing to our government? Juries command public respect - is there a better model for the second chamber?



Captain in charge

Sir: We don't need health and safety laws to tell us where the responsibility lies for going to sea with your front doors open. A ship's captain is responsible for everyone and everything under his command. Nor do I see how Godfrey Holmes (letter, 6 March) makes the leap from failure in command to a failure of capitalism. Royal Navy captains bear personal responsibility when their ship hits the rocks and they are state-owned.



BBC bias

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is correct (5 March). I enjoyed a series recently on BBC (Safari School). I watched every episode and the only black person in the whole series was serving drinks and was on screen for two seconds, despite all the filming being in South Africa.



Casualties of war

Sir: Justin Huggler, reporting on incidents in Afghanistan that have left at least 17 civilians dead, says it has been a "disastrous two days for the Americans" (6 March). Surely he means a disastrous two days for innocent Afghan civilians?



Ageless beauties

Sir: In today's report on the cash-for-honours affair (7 March), you state that Ruth Turner is 36. However, you omit the ages of the other people in the article: Lord Levy, Tony Blair, Jonathan Powell, Lord Goldsmith, Sir Menzies Campbell, his chief of staff Ed Davey, Elfyn Llwyd and Lord Levy's solicitor Neil O'May. I think we should be told - with further description to allow us to build up a full picture: slim brunette, nordic god, balding fatty, wizened geriatric, that sort of thing.



A question of gender

Sir: Is Guy Keleny just adding to our confusion? ("Gender roles", Errors & Omissions, 3 March). Surely, an actress is of the feminine gender whilst still being an actor of the female sex.



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