Airlines are getting a tough time from environmentalists these days, and Ryanair, the Irish low-cost airline, is particularly unpopular. Stunts like giving away free tickets, and their plans for ultra-cheap trans-atlantic flights, led to one UK Government minister recently branding the company as "the irresponsible face of capitalism." Ryanair have so far appeared pretty un-phased by such criticisms, with CEO Michael O'Leary famously claiming that there was no suggestion that "the [eco] loonies are dissuading people from travel." Now it seems O'Leary's colleagues may disagree. Howard Miller, Ryanair's Deputy CEO, recently told the Guardian that concerns about the environment may be effecting demand for flights "at the edges":
"I am concerned that there is a continuing media campaign and the concern is that people might say 'maybe I will not fly on holiday and maybe I will make a different choice."
The Guardian report goes on to point out that many other factors may be influencing the recent softening of the European market, including higher prices and over supply. The fall is certainly not huge, with Ryanair's load factor falling from 85% in April 2006 to 83% in the same month of 2007. However, with increased pressure from campaigners, and with European governments beginning to talk about ways to legislate pollution from aviation, Ryanair would do well to do what they can to green their act, and to tone down their CEO's anti-environmental rhetoric, as the Guardian article goes on to suggest:
"Some airline executives argue privately that Ryanair has not helped its cause by launching outspoken attacks against green groups."
Where adequate service exists, trains certainly look likely to trump planes in terms of carbon emissions for some time to come. Having said that, some airline executives are putting more efforts into saving emissions than attacking environmentalists. Virgin's Richard Branson, for example, has been active in developing alternative technologies, and in promoting fuel saving practices such as towing planes to the runway before take off. Others have been experimenting with landing Jumbos in idle to save fuel.