Discussion Paper 

A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation

Shifting towards climate-just mobility

Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years. This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. 

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

Find this page in German, Spanish & French by clicking on the language menu on the top right. Find the Portuguese PDF here. And the Danish PDF here.

This Paper aims to answer the following questions:

  • Why does air traffic need to remain low?
  • What could a climate-just mobility look like in the future?
  • What are positive examples of job transitions?
  • Who will plan and manage the transition?
  • What are principles for a just transition?
  • What are the next steps, especially concerning state recovery packages?
  • What are the advantages of different forms of state or private ownership in the sector?
The demand for a ‘just transition’:

… has been developed by trade unions and the climate justice movement. It aims to protect workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries but is also a broader process to help safeguard the future of workers, communities and the planet. It is not an argument for delaying the changes needed, rather for managing them effectively, fairly and democratically.

Principles for a just transition of aviation include:
  • Providing social protection 
  • Promoting the creation of alternative employment
  • Investing in skills development and re-training
  • Halt new training and employment in aviation
  • Global support for a just transition, especially from countries with high historic and current emissions
What needs to be done:
  • Stop propping up the aviation industry with taxpayer money. Linking bailouts with social and environmental conditions is not enough to solve the problems. Instead, recovery packages must be directly used to finance a just transition. 
  • Down-scale the industry in line with a 1.5 ºC trajectory, including an end to subsidies and tax breaks for aviation, introducing a frequent flyer levy, and reducing airports and slots.
  • Create local, national and trans-national Just Transition Funds which are grounded in a meaningful stakeholder engagement that include workers, trade unions, climate justice advocates and, where relevant, tourism-dependent communities. These funds: receive and manage aviation and other fossil fuel assets and tax incomes; coordinate and finance investment in public and community infrastructure for a new resilient economy; pay for training and skills programmes; and guarantee livelihoods for employees in the affected sectors. 
  • Re-purpose aircraft manufacturing plants for producing goods of high social value like life-saving ventilators, wind turbines or trains. Recycle infrastructure, similar to the former Berlin Tempelhof airport which is now a recreational park for citizens. Redeploy employees to railways and other decent climate jobs. 
  • Changes in aviation, however, must be part of an overall societal transformation involving new modes of travelling, working, producing and trading. It will only be possible to achieve a climate just mobility system by also overcoming the existing income disparities.

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