Flying Matters: leaked lobbying plan

Posted by christian — 19 February 2009 at 9:00am - Comments

Michelle de Leo and Susan Kramer

Michelle de Leo, Flying Matters lobbyist (right) debates with Susan Kramer MP

Flying Matters are a lobbying firm which lobbies on behalf of the aviation industry. Their spokespeople pop up again and again to argue the case for aviation expansion being a good thing. And if you're interested, their leaked strategy document for the coming year has come into our possession, and you can download it here. [PDF]

You may have seen the Guardian story here about the leak. The document describes what their plan is, their strategy for targeting political parties, where they get their money, and how they spend it.

In public, Flying Matters say they "contribute to a balanced and informed debate on aviation's contribution to climate change and ... ensure proper account is taken within this debate of its economic and social benefits." In private, they're a little blunter about what they do.

The document describes an internal objective to "create and sustain a climate of opinion amongst key opinion formers that enables aviation to grow whilst meeting its environmental obligations". But Flying Matters state their objective is to push for aviation expansion in line with the government white paper on aviation - and as there are no meaningful environmental obligations upon aviation, that basically means unconstrained growth.

The document hints at the close relationship between aviation lobbyists and the Department for Transport. It already seems that the government have been working closely with lobbyists who have close ties with BAA over the Heathrow decision, and we've seen recent exposes of the revolving door relationship between the government and BAA, who fund Flying Matters. They claim, in a summary of achievements to date:

"Department for Transport/Secretary of State adopting Flying Matters lines in public comment - DfT independently approaching FM for support on key issues (climate change bill)"

Why is the DfT 'adopting' the line of a pro-aviation lobby group? And why are the DfT going to a lobby group for 'support', particularly over so sensitive an issue as the climate change bill?

But despite their claims of success - being go-to people for the DfT, helping bury the Conservative's Quality Of Life report - the whole thing reads like a bit of a moan. A list of "just some of the groups opposing growth in air travel" seems to include... pretty much everyone. But then trying to argue that aviation expansion won't be a disaster for the climate is a lonely job.

Maybe that's why Flying Matters seem to want to avoid talking about the climate. Instead, they seem to be planning to use the same tired old arguments about the benefits of aviation. Like claiming that flying is not a luxury - despite the fact that the majority of cheap flights are taken by those on middle to high incomes. Or claiming that aviation is key to the UK's economic well-being - ignoring the study suggesting that only 4 per cent of businesses think an expanded Heathrow would benefit them.

I guess if anyone really believed that aviation expansion was going to be such an amazing thing for the economy, maybe Flying Matters wouldn't need to spend 70 grand on research to demonstrate that aviation expansion will create jobs. If aviation expansion really was as great as BAA, British Airways and the rest tell us it is, maybe they wouldn't need to fund Flying Matters to cheerlead for things like the third runway.

Weak arguments on the economy, or how flying is a basic right - they're just trying to divert attention from the contribution aviation makes to climate change. Everybody knows that cutting carbon emissions and expanding aviation don't go together. But not Flying Matters. Their line on climate change is:

"Aviation does contribute to climate change
But UK aviation is taking a lead on tackling the issue"

And what is their evidence that UK aviation is taking a lead? Well, other than repeating the words ‘Sustainable Aviation' a few times, they point to:

"Demonstrable progress: eg 70 per cent reduction in emissions since first jet engine"

Well, it's probably true that since the first one was created in about 1910, jet engines have got a bit better. After all, during the same hundred year period we managed to invent computers, the internet, space flight, electric blenders, television, mobile phones that are smaller than a briefcase - the list goes on. Unfortunately, just as mobile phones don't seem to have got much smaller recently, the jet engine has made hardly any improvement in efficiency over the past 15 years, and any small gains in efficiency have been swamped by the massive growth in aviation during the same time period.

That Flying Matters can with a straight face suggest that any technological progress made since the creation of the first jet engine means the aviation industry is tackling the environmental problems it causes kind of shows that they don't have a leg to stand on. They know it and we know it - there's an overwhelming environmental case against aviation expansion.

This document just makes clear that Flying Matters are an unprincipled organisation which will use whatever arguments they can think of, in whatever way they can, to argue for the interests of the aviation lobby. If they think pretending to represent developing-world farmers will buy them a few months of aviation growth, they'll go for it and attempt to "...cast [any] opposition as anti-development". As the economy collapses around us, they'll see it as an opportunity to distract from their weak environmental arguments:

"New economic priorities present an opportunity to shift the debate back onto our strongest ground - the economic contribution of the industry and its ability to support and help create new jobs in other sectors"

They'll cast themselves as the lone voice of sanity facing a huge monolith of anti-aviation sentiment, in part because it might make it easier to secure funding from their air-industry backers, but probably also because it makes it a bit easier to get out of bed in the morning.

In reality, they're well-paid corporate lobbyists with the full weight of the aviation industry behind them, desperately trying to obscure the environmental reality of aviation expansion for the collective financial good of their backers. It'd be unpleasant, if it wasn't so sad. So, take a look at the document, pass it around, see what you think, and let us know if there's anything we missed.

Download it here. [PDF]

About Christian Hunt


Sea ice geek, former web editor at GP.

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