Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary has slammed the ‘flight-shaming’ movement promoted by Greta Thunberg and other climate activists, saying they are peddling a ‘mistake’ that air travel could be replaced by other modes of transport.
Mr O’Leary said efforts by campaigners to reduce air travel had so far had no impact on reducing the carbon footprint of airlines.
“I don’t pay too much attention to them,” said the Irish executive. “There is very little evidence of the impact of flight-shaming or Greta Thunberg.”
The comments came as Ryanair posted record half-year profits of €1.4bn, higher than the €1.2bn posted in 2019 – the latest relevant comparator given the impact of the pandemic. The results were broadly in line with investors’ expectations.
Emissions from the aviation sector came under scrutiny at the UN Cop27 climate change summit in Egypt this week. The global aviation industry emits around 2% of all human-made CO2 emissions, according to industry figures.
Ms Thunberg has been one of the leading voices of the flight shame or ‘flygskam’ movement in recent years, which encourages people to cut back on air travel because of its impact on the environment. Ms Thunberg refuses to fly and even crossed the Atlantic on a boat with no toilets, beds or showers to attend a climate change conference in New York.
However, Mr O’Leary said the idea of the public using alternative modes of transport to replace air travel was impractical.
“We live on an island in Ireland and the UK,” he said. “The idea that we can all just take the train at the weekend when there is no train strike is a mistake.”
He continued: ‘I was on BBC Radio 4 this morning and of course they had enough climate scientists wondering how air travel was a major cause of emissions.
“[The aviation sector generates] 2% of Europe’s CO2 emissions. Road transport is 27pc. Today, no one believes that we can eliminate road transport. But similarly, if you live on an island or on the outskirts of Europe, you can’t rule out air travel either.
Ryanair on Monday announced plans to invest in the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is made from a variety of products including used cooking oil, household waste and used clothing.
Mr O’Leary said: ‘We need to look at all the ways to improve or reduce the fuel consumption of air travel.
The simplest short-term solution, the Ryanair chief added, was to “fix Europe’s broken ATC [air traffic controller market]”.
By removing state monopolies and allowing greater competition in the free market, delays could be reduced by 90%, Mr O’Leary said.
He added: “[This] would reduce fuel consumption for every 20pc. We don’t have to wait for huge technological developments that could take 20, 30, 40 years. The deregulation of air traffic control across Europe allows national providers to compete with each other instead of protecting them. We would have a dramatic reduction in the environmental impact of aviation.
Ryanair fares over the summer were 15% higher than three years ago as holidaymakers benefited from the removal of Covid-related travel restrictions, Mr O’Leary said.
He said the low-cost airline was well placed to benefit from a potential recession as consumers seek cheaper alternatives.
“We were surprised at how strong October, November and even Christmas seem. But they could be derailed by any kind of COVID or Ukraine development this winter,” he said.
The annual profit should be between 1 and 1.2 billion euros following the impact of the loss-making winter months. The airline expects to fly 168 million people in the year to March 2023, above previous expectations of 166.5 million.