Aviation Justice

Frans Verhagen - February, 2012

Creating Sustainable Communities

Frans C. Verhagen, M. Div., M.I.A., Ph.D. is a sustainability sociologist, co-founder of Earth and Peace Education International (EPE), and director of its sustainability education and research program. He is also the founder and president of the International Institute of Monetary Transformation.


Social justice is a value which focuses on how power, wealth, and resources in a society are distributed and used. In a just society, these social goods are used for the benefit of all groups; they are not used by any particular group to control other groups. Social justice opposes the violence on quality of life that is inflicted by unjust and inequitable social institutions and practices, a notion referred to as structural violence. The spotlight of social justice can be focused on conditions, events, and social actions in specific sectors of society to determine whether relationships among groups within these sectors can be characterized as just, e.g. gender justice, climate justice. This essay shines that spotlight on the transportation sector, specifically aviation, to determine whether there is aviation justice.

In fact, there are many injustices in the aviation industry. Listed below are but a few examples.

 One major manifestation of aviation injustice consists of the fact that 5% of the world population flies while 95%, particularly in the developing countries, pay the costs in a changing climate and its consequences on their quality of life. Clearly there is an imbalance, here, in the distribution of benefits to the wealthy few and costs to the less economically privileged.

 Aviation justice would require that efforts within the transportation industry be made to reduce global warming by promoting ecologically sustainable modes of surface transportation  and to establish a climate fund for adaptation in the developing world.

 Imbalance can also be found in the distribution of benefits among industries. Because of its political power and lobbying acumen, the aviation industry is able to acquire government  exemptions from taxes on fuel; civil and military manufacturers receive government subsidies. These are  privileges other industries do not have .

Aviation justice would require the industry to internalize its ecological costs e.g. the fact that it emits 5% of  all CO2 emissions and social costs, e.g. the detrimental health effects of these emissions. .

 Another major injustice is perpetrated on people and communities near airports. Many of these communities were there before the airport arrived and they are most often insufficiently compensated for the noise and pollution that is rained upon them in the normal course of an airport’s operations. In unusual situations they have to accept fuel dumping. Nor is consideration given to the fact that the incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases together with incidence of cancer are significantly higher around airports.

 Aviation justice would require that a fund be established to compensate those who have suffered the consequences of an airport’s operations.

 The industry’s greatest injustice towards people and planet results from its expansion syndrome, the theoretical underpinning of which is growthism an ideology that prevents the emergence of sustainable production and consumption patterns.  Manifested in its plans to expand airports, build more runways, increase air flights, such expansionist views lead to an unjust appropriation of more than their fair share of Earth’s resources which will diminish the quality of life of Earth citizens in the present.

 In a manner similar to electric load management  by utilities, aviation justice would require that the efficient management of flight demands be a substitute for more runways and flights.