As a young airline, what does the Open Skies agreement mean to you?
LH: It is an absolute nonsense that in the 21st century the one industry that facilitates international global trade more than any other – the aviation business – is governed by bilateral agreements between the British Government and various foreign governments, most of which were written as far as I can tell by William Pitt the Elder in the 1750s. It has taken the British Government 30 years to negotiate some degree of relaxation of the rules between UK and the US, Europe and the US.
So I say ‘bring it on’. But is it going to take them another ten years to relax India or China or all the other bilateral agreements that are in place?
The Civil Aviation Authority has been fantastic to us, very helpful and supportive, as has the Department of Transport, but the UK Government just doesn’t have a strategy. They talk about wanting global open skies, but ultimately I think there are one or two carriers, British Airways mainly, for which it is not in their interests, and they have a very strong voice in government.
I can’t even get a single meeting with a junior minister. I have been working in this business for three years now and they will not even meet me, so it is very biased towards BA. If BA wants to open up a new route, it just does it. It does not have to go through the kind of hoops that we have to go through.
Has the airline industry grasped the seriousness of climate change?
LH: Unfortunately, the aviation business has been very much on the back foot on this issue. It shows absolutely no initiative, with Michael O’Leary going around saying we should shoot the cows because they are the problem, not aircraft, and Willie Walsh saying that British Airways is doing fantastic work when in fact less than 1% of BA customers choose to offset the flight. BA has this offsetting thing on their website. If you can find it, I’ll give you a bottle of champagne! It is completely buried.
And then you’ve got Easyjet going around saying anyone with a plane older than 1990 should be shut down, which is convenient for them because their oldest aircraft just happens to have been manufactured in 1990. So there are all these airlines jostling for position and not actually doing anything.
So what is Silverjet doing?
LH: We feel offsetting is very important. We can take a lead on this because we are small and we are innovative – we won the Condé Nast Award for innovation this year on this issue – and it’s dead simple. It costs 90p per hour per passenger to offset a flight, which is not a big deal really. All airlines should be doing this and governments should be encouraging them; they should regulate it and make sure that money does go into offsetting projects around the world and that those projects are verified.
The first thing we did was to inject some facts into the debate, so the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management did a totally independent audit of our carbon footprint.
Every time we fly across the Atlantic we produce approximately 124t of carbon, so for every flight that we operate we then invest through the Carbon Neutral Company, one of the leading carbon management companies in the UK. They invest that money in a variety of projects around the world, so we are buying solar panels for families in India so they can get rid of kerosene burning cookers; we are building a wind farm in New Zealand, and capping and putting filters on disused coalmines in Pennsylvania.
Every time a customer flies with us, they will earn carbon points and they can then choose where to invest them. The feedback we have had so far has been just incredible.