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Aviation growth 'risk to planet'

The rise in demand for air travel is one of the most serious environmental threats facing the world, a study says.

The University of York report says government plans for airport expansion are in direct conflict with targets to reduce greenhouse gases.

Report authors Professor John Whitelegg and Howard Cambridge say polluting gases from aircraft exhaust fumes are on the increase.

Airlines should pay an environmental charge equal to the damage, they say.

The UK and other EU governments have made a massive commitment to expanding aviation, the report says.

Recommendations

It sets out a model for dealing with aviation over the next 30 years, recommending steps to be taken by the UK and other EU countries including an end to the tax-free status of aviation fuel.

The report says at least 50% of visitors should access airports by public transport, and wants journeys of less than 400 miles to be undertaken by train rather than plane, eliminating 45% of flights.

Prof Whitelegg told the BBC that high-speed rail services such as Eurostar needed to be improved so that every city in the UK was linked.

He said: "We could have a really high quality railway system that gives people a real alternative.

"At the moment we have cheap flights and some of the most expensive railways in the world. That is the wrong way around."

The report says businesses should be encouraged to use technology such as video conferencing as an alternative to travel.

Governments should carry out the Zurich airport "bubble concept", limiting emissions of all kinds from airports and treating them like large industrial sites, the report says.

Prof Whitelegg said air travel growth had been "fuelled by generous tax breaks and state aid, and is contrary to the objectives of environmental policy, especially efforts to prevent the worst consequences of climate change".

He told the BBC an environmental tax on flying was needed to reflect the "environmental realities".

He said governments were moving towards implementing such a tax, which could be as much as £40 or £50 per flight.

"This will ultimately be paid by the person who is flying or the person who is bringing in lettuces from Africa," he said.

The University of York's Stockholm Institute publishes the report on Monday.

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