The true cost of flying – VPRO documentary

The true cost of flying – VPRO documentary


The emissions are going up like this. In Paris we agreed on a total of
emissions that are much higher… This is only a few percent.
And they’re going down. And they meet here. So it’ll be impossible to achieve Paris,
because of the aviation alone. Both in the electrical engineering
and the aviation communities… …99% of people responded with:
‘That’s impossible.’ Or: ‘You’re lying.’ When I was young
I wanted to be a biologist. An entomologist, even. I was always carrying around butterflies
and caterpillars. That was until my first flight,
when my love for aviation began. So I studied aeronautical engineering. My first job was at Fokker in 1982. They asked me to design
a longer version of the F28. One that seats around 100 people.
Give it a shot. So I did some calculations
to see how big it had to be. There it is. It turned out nothing like
my first design attempts. Except for the 100 seats,
that stayed the same. The aviation industry produces CO2,
a major greenhouse gas… …which lingers in the atmosphere. What
we burn now will be around for centuries. In addition, because we fly in
the higher layers of the atmosphere… …and emit other gases such as nitrogen
oxide and even just water vapour… …they cause all kinds of chemical
processes in the atmosphere. The effect on the temperature
of all the CO2… …that the aviation industry
has emitted between 1940 and now… …if you use that
as a point of departure… …and you look at all the current
short-term climate effects… …produced by modern aviation
in a year’s time… …that amount is between
two and six times… …bigger than that whole history of CO2. The point is, we still don’t really know
how these aviation emissions… …can be reduced, and we do know
the industry is growing… …as well as the emissions. The aviation industry is growing
by about 4 or 5 percent a year. That means that
by the end of this century… …we’ll be flying nine times
as much as we do now. Imagine that. We already hear planes
all the time, everywhere we go. And that’s only going to get worse. Those are the consequences
of this growth. This is an electric plane. Is it a regular plane, like a Cessna,
or a glider? No, this is a real airplane in what they
call in Germany the Eco Class. It’s an experimental aircraft with
maximum take-off weight of 630 kilos. It runs on a 60 KW electric motor
that runs on batteries. So zero emission. That’s cool. Does the motor run continuously
or is it gliding too? No, it’s not a glider. It’s a regular plane
with a regular wing span. If the motor falls out
it will simply land like a Cessna. Amazing. Have a good and safe flight. Same to you in
the emergency helicopter. I can take off the headphones now
so we can talk. The first motorised flight
took place in 1903. In the 40s and then the 60s
the jet engine was introduced. There hasn’t been a new form
of propulsion technology since. Hybrid electric motors
have the potential. Siemens built combustion engines
for aircrafts a long time ago. Now we’re back on the market.
We know we have a long way to go… …but we’re convinced
Siemens can manage it. We’re confident that hybrid electric
planes hold the future… …for passenger traffic. So it will be a relevant line of business
for Siemens in the future. What steps need to be taken
between now and the point… …when it’s possible to carry more
passengers and fly further than now? I’ll start at the end.
Our goal is to, by 2035… …have a hybrid electric plane
that carries 50 to 100 passengers. It should be able to cover
a distance of 1,000 kilometres. That should be introduced
in passenger traffic in 2035. To get there, you have to start small. We’re gaining lots
of experience with this plane. In 2022 or 2025 we’ll see
the first planes on the market. There’s room for nine batteries
which can be swapped quickly. This is the converter, which converts
direct current to a rotating field. From the electric motor this is
converted to the rotating propeller. The advantage of electric propulsion… …is that you can distribute the drive
among for the places… …where it’s most beneficial. So where is that? On the wing? A good place for a propeller
is on the end of the wing. Because you get turbulence here
in this direction… …so if you have a propeller
that turns the other way… …the turbulence is partly compensated. So you can move forwards
just as fast with less energy. The prediction is that air traffic
will have doubled by 2050. At the same time, the EU intends to
have halved CO2 and other emissions. There’s a huge gap there. The only way to bridge that
is through hybrid electric aircrafts. I attend aviation conventions
all over the world. At those conventions there are always
people who are developing new things. You see similar developments
in different countries. We try to connect those developments. I was one of the first ones to fly in
an electric aircraft, back in 2009. That was here in China, in Shanghai.
And I thought: This is it. It was so quiet, so peaceful
and harmonious… …you could tell it
would be the future of aviation. But then it turned out that the
development of the battery technology… …and the planes themselves… …and the development of the
infrastructure would take a lot more time. I thought we’d see the first test aircraft
within two, three years. Now, 8½ years later, the first test aircraft
are being taken into service. This year there came a point
where I thought: It’s about to take off… …judging from the large number
of requests from all over the world. And because of the large companies
that are hooking up with electric aviation. What is China’s role in the development
of electric aircraft? Which role can or should it play? Right now, China faces
a lot of environmental issues. But the government’s response is clear. The government says: An X percentage
of all new cars should be electric… …and then that’s what happens. When the government specifically states: We want a better environment
for the entire transport sector… …then it’s a clear support
for electric aviation… …unlike anywhere else in the world. And you need that support to develop
the necessary technology. Flying is very cheap,
mainly because it’s so fast. Let’s say you have a pilot,
and this one pilot, or two usually… …produce a high number of passenger
kilometres because they’re so fast. Compare that to a tram: If a tram driver manages 18 kilometres
an hour, he’s very happy. Compare that to 950 kilometres per hour
for a jumbo jet. That makes all the difference.
So speed is a very important factor. It not only makes the pilot cheaper,
but also the investment in the aircraft… …as a plane produces
many kilometres in its lifetime. And on a daily basis. That’s why it’s ultimately so cheap. In addition to that there’s
a big difference in tax payment. When you fill up your car
you’re mainly paying tax. If you fill up your plane with kerosene
you pay no or hardly any tax at all. When you buy a train ticket,
you pay VAT. But that doesn’t apply to aviation. There was a vote today on an issue… …that’s been a huge
topic of debate within the EU: What should we do about the fact
that airline tickets are VAT free… …and the exemption
from excise duty on kerosene? We all pay tax on petrol… …which ensures a fair price
for your transport… …but air travel is exempt of that. This was once agreed
in order to stimulate air travel. The idea behind that was to
give people a chance to meet up… …and form global networks. This requires planes, especially
for Transatlantic travel. When people work together
and meet up… …this will contribute to world peace. Have there been any previous attempts
to end these subsidies? Some half-hearted attempts have been
made to get it onto the agenda. But then people argue it needs
to be tackled worldwide. I’m all for that, because that
will truly mean fair competition. Air travel is a global business. So we need to look at the relations
with the rest of the world. Europe mustn’t price itself
out of the market. On the other hand, we face this
huge task of fighting climate change. We notice that the aviation industry
is quite conservative. Introducing excise duties or VAT
is practically non-negotiable. Even though it’s needed to make the
customer realise they can’t have it all. You can’t make the world a better,
cleaner place… …and also be able to fly just about
anywhere for bargain prices… …in a safe manner, with great service. So we need to make some choices,
and I believe they’re best expressed… …in paying a fair price for a fair product. The aviation lobby is
powerful and well-organised. Some of these people even
have a background in the industry. I have a British colleague
who was in the aviation industry… …and was also a lobbyist in Brussels
for that industry. It’s rather unlikely, once you’re
a member of the EU parliament… …to be able to steer away from it,
sever all your connections… …and to be 100% objective
in your considerations. People are strongly influenced
by the past. Proposal 21 VE has been accepted. Proposal 9, who is in favour? It turned out to be the conservatives
who didn’t approve the text. So it was a close call this morning. I’m pleasantly surprised that
the component made it through. Who is against? Who abstains?
Proposal 9 has been accepted. Amendment 151. Who is in favour? This is a huge achievement. Who is in favour? Who is against? Nice to have support. Who is against? Thanks, GroenLinks. We do take responsibility.
Look at the result. Will it happen next year?
In three, five, ten years? As soon as possible,
as far as I’m concerned. But here in Europe you have
to do a lot of talking… …to persuade people of
the direction they should take. Now we’re hoping it will survive
the plenary meeting. Then the committee can
really get started… …in the hope that we can join hands
internationally. We’d all like a worldwide system
covering the global aviation industry…. …that puts a price tag on the CO2
emission in the aviation industry. This was a difficult process
that took many years… …to achieve that in the special
organisation within the UN in Montreal… The countries couldn’t agree
on this taxation. So we said: If we can’t manage it
worldwide, let’s begin with Europe. This led to huge panic in Washington
and Beijing, Moscow, and so on. A lot of opposition. In the US Congress they even
proposed a draft legislation… …forbidding US airlines to pay for
CO2 emissions from and to Europe. That’s going very far. It means they’re forbidding a US
company from abiding by EU law. I think we should continue
to keep the pressure on. This worldwide system doesn’t even
involve a reduction of emissions… …only stopping the growth
of it after 2020… …with an optional stage and everything,
so it’s still very tricky. And it won’t greatly reduce emissions… …but they’ll compensate for it by funding
projects that reduce CO2 elsewhere. That might be planting trees… …or airline companies might invest… …in another industrial process
that leads to CO2 reduction. They say climate change
is a high priority… …but it’s almost impossible in
their sector. That’s ridiculous. If we add everything up
in all those sectors… …we’ll never achieve this
CO2-neutral economy… …which we need to have by 2050
in order to stick to the Paris goals. The aviation and shipping industries
have gone to great lengths… …to not be mentioned
in the Paris climate agreement. They made sure of that. An aircraft lands,
then it’s taxied to the gate… …and emptied and prepared
for the next flight. That bridge that dates back to 1953
is slowly being lowered. Not this bridge, but the
phenomenon is from 1953. Then slowly the people come out.
There’s the catering. Down there someone’s arriving
with a baggage cart. This manual process takes place
one million times a day… …across the globe. Look at the little flag. It’s taken him five minutes to park,
attach the little flag… …swing the arm out, take the top off,
ground it. Look at all those carts.
They need seven of them here… …for this one ground handling process. If you took a black and white photo
you’d think the carts were from the 30s. They haven’t changed. It looks like an incident. But it’s not. This ‘incident’
takes place every three minutes. The idea is to carry out these aircraft
ground handling processes in parallel… …with a total overcapacity,
making it look like an incident. In other words, it’s completely inefficient. Look how quickly they step on. We’re on the farm’s panorama roof. We’re looking down
at a handling system… …which used to be a manual process. In the old days the farmer
sat under the cow. Now, everything is automised
and handled very efficiently. Forty spots in a tiny space. So this is what the turnaround
terminal does. A small footprint, a rotating platform,
a standard procedure. It’s clean, safe, no risk… …and every case is handled
simultaneously, like these cows. It’s already here,
all we need are the aircrafts. The turnaround terminal is very concise. We only need 40% of this area
for a turnaround terminal. The green part is fixed, then there’s a
rotating disk which the planes dock on. A rotating element. And here it leaves again independently. They walk past a centre, the people
come out, baggage comes out. It’s cleaned, kerosene goes in,
baggage goes in, people go in. And off they go again. It’s like a McFly,
if you know what I mean. It’s a standard simultaneous
ground handling process… …where you can determine
the speed with the disk. You can decide to make it a 45-minute
procedure, or 60 minutes. EasyJet takes about 25 minutes. If Schiphol agreed,
how would it be installed? Let’s look at the capacity. Schiphol has about 60
or 70 million passengers. The turnaround terminal can handle
10, 12 million passengers. So you only need five or six
of these machines. So it’s not a building, it’s a machine. We need six of these machines
to cover all the traffic in Schiphol. How would this make
the airport more sustainable? This aircraft is running stationary
the whole time. When the plane docks onto the dial,
all engines are switched off. Then silently, almost meditatively,
they will rotate around this thing. The procedures take place,
they know when to leave. And they take off. So it’s almost 50% less CO2 emission
just from this ground traffic. Not in the air, on the ground. We’re negotiating with
two big European airports. And also with a Chinese party. Is their response different
than in Europe or the US? Yes, Europe is very defensive. We need to do something, but there’s
pressure from the press or the state. China is more forward-thinking.
They’re more open, try things out. If it doesn’t work, too bad. Let’s try to prepare for that. We know that many patents
that are funded in Europe… …are often purchased by Chinese
parties and implemented in China. So Europe is really a lab for China. Are we reaching the full potential
of high-speed trains in Europe? The tricky thing about international
rail transport… …is that it hasn’t really gone
onto the market yet. Officially, according to EU rules,
it should, but it hasn’t happened. The big German and French companies
haven’t done it at all. They don’t work together. International connections are on
the bottom of their list of priorities. The ticketing system is very inefficient. You have to be very savvy
to find a cheap train ticket. They exist, but they’re hard to find. Whereas with air travel, it takes ten
minutes to book a flight anywhere. If that improved, and it has nothing
to do with cost, just political intent… …to force companies to do that,
that would make a huge difference. In China, high-speed train travel is
growing faster than national air travel. So it’s possible. And people are happy about it.
Nobody is forced to take the train. It’s just due to marketing… …and the fact that people realise
that a good high-speed train… …is much better and more pleasant.
More comfortable, easier.

20 thoughts on “The true cost of flying – VPRO documentary

  1. In Western "civilization" air-travel has engendered a delusional general sense of accomplishment which has, in effect perpetuated an infantilized society. This effect is inescapable except for self-imposed social isolation to which one must adapt if one is to maintain one's sanity, personal intellectual and existential development.

    People of said that travel broadens the mind for which there is absolutely no evidence and not only do people who are widely travelled communicate in very poor English (and presumably all languages) they consistently struggle to form original thoughts and are not motivated to form meaningful questions about the reality they inherited which ought to have been the only motivation for the exploration that travel implies.

  2. Best way to lower emissions in all aspects is to lower the human population. Declining birth rates should be cherished and not to be replaced by some immigrants that will have access to emit more pollution.

  3. I am quite skeptic about battery powered planes…

    But hydrogen can solve the long haul challenge, electric planes are facing …

  4. Hopefully you continue this theme with other global economy driven industries, the two industries that I believe are under reported for emissions are commercial shipping and the petro-chemical sector.

  5. As someone who does around 100 flights per year, this documentary has made me more aware of how damaging it is for the environment. Good job

  6. It is useful that the documentary shows that Europe is severely lacking in a good-functioning pan-European high-speed train network. Once you have traveled in China or Japan on these trains you know why European trains cannot compete with the airline industry. My guess is that the same can be said for North America (US, Canada) as well.

  7. Pipistrel certainly did something well, however, they are best at marketing. The first fully electrical aircraft in series production has been out to the market since 2003, with the Antares 20E. Yes, very low production, yes, it is mainly a glider with an electrically driven propeller, and of course, it is a single seater plane. Has so far flown in excess of 12 hours at a time, 2000km in one go. Efficiency has its benefits.

  8. This topic should be discussed in the newspapers weekly or monthly, in details, to sensibilize people! Thank you very much for this documentary and thanks to those people who take the problem of obsolete and polluting aviation into consideration and try to bring new solutions, so that the humankind can continue in a more sustainable way!

    As a traveller within Europe, I have choice between trains and planes. When I can, (when there is a place and the price for the ticket is not very high), I buy a train ticket rather than take an airplane. However, when it comes to travelling from one part of the world to another, there is the only way to do so – to fly by an airplane. So, the big companies operating at long destinations should preoccupy themselves the first to reform their means.

  9. It's not going to change. Good luck dreaming up. There is physics and it has it's own limits. Imagination is good. We must be satisfied with what we have.

  10. It might be an obstacle for positive changes, but I really like how slowly Europe processes things. You have to convince everyone that it is right. In China, there are simply no people to convince. What the party says is the rule.

  11. Thanks VPRO for another very educative docu. I see one major problem here; where is all that electricity going to come from ! ?
    I don't think that we will be able to anticipate that high an increase of electricity demand if we rule out nuclear power stations until we come up with a power source capable to produce the equivalence or equivalent KW compared to nuclear,

    The today electrical demand in any European country except of maybe Norway cannot cope on fossil & renewable energy alone without the backing of nuclear, so how are we going to cope with a massive surge in electrical energy in such a short period of time ! ?

    Also; one has to bear in mind; all the mining needed to produce the ores/minerals needed to produce all those batteries.
    In was interesting to see how lobbyists infiltrate the European parliament to obstruct and to slow down necessary and urgent changes in the way we live.

    Very refreshing to see how the Chinese handle things, in Europe and US you have too many people having their say, the Chinese just get on with the job, they are quick to learn and to adept. Well done China.

  12. Good documentary­čĹĆ­čĆ╝ But I would like it better if you had spoken more to the airline operators about what they are doing and what they want. Several operators like Easyejet would love to fly emission free, if that was an option. And new aircrafts are allot more fuel efficient then before. I did not know about the EU regulation concerning VAT free tickets and tax free fuel, but I thing they should follow the path of Norway and Sweden, both in VAT and tax on jetfuel, but also on implementing some biofuel into jetfuel. Norway and Sweden also have a ┬źpassanger fee┬╗ on airtravel to ┬źpay for the emissions┬╗, but I think this money should be allocated to ecofriendly alternatives and/or research and development of green technology. Lastly I think you should have shown a simple illustration on what an all electric 737 would be like in terms of weight, ┬źfuel density┬╗, range and trafficload(payload).
    Best regard from a commercial pilot student­čśŐ

  13. Ahhhhh! If only it were CO2 coming out the back sides of aircraft, autos, etc.
    Jet fuel, petroleum. Mmmmmmmmm, Scrumptious!
    Why do you think people die when they leave the car running in an enclosed space? Earth is a big enclosed space. We are all high on the fumes, lobsterlike in a slowly boiling pot of water.
    This is my attempt to wake from the illusion. Anyone else?

  14. Finally, a documentary saying what I have being saying unpopularly for over 20 years. Nobody pays the true cost of energy.

  15. just accept that we and our grandkids are going away very soon and there's not a thing we can do about it. accept oblivion. oh and stop breeding people only for them to die. if you're serious about stopping suffering. most of you are not of course.

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