The industry must engage in talks with government to reduce the environmental impact of aviation or prepare for restrictions on flight travel in two years’ time, according to former Abta chairman Noel Josephides.

Josephides, founder of Sunvil, warned delegates at the 2019 Aito Overseas Conference in Wroclaw, Poland, of a “knee-jerk reaction” by government over environmental issues.

His fears came as Aito announced it was creating a think tank to formulate industry’s response to holidaymakers’ concerns about the impact of flight travel.

He said: “There will come a time, if natural disasters keep happening, that governments will panic and really restrict our ability to fly. I think it is very important at this stage that we talk to government because these things are not going to get better. We will be flying less.”

He put a timescale of around two years on quotas, in the form of increased taxation, on air travel.

“I think it’s going to be fairly imminent. So far airlines have had their heads in the sand. They have been privileged not to be taxed and we have been able to fly around the world for next to nothing. That will stop,” he warned, and said any hopes that Air Passenger Duty would be abolished were “pie in the sky”.

He said carbon offsetting was seen as a “short-term rescue”, adding: “The technology needed to make flying less polluting is going to take some years. We have got to begin this dialogue now.”

Abta’s director of financial protection and financial services John de Vial said change to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment would “take time” and was likely to result in tax or carbon credits, which he said would alter consumers’ behaviour.

He added: “It will be driven by consumers in the end; the change in culture, in how they feel about flying.”

De Vial said longer term there needed to be a good domestic rail infrastructure to provide a viable alternative to flying. That kind of infrastructure change could take 10 to 20 years, he added.

Matt Purser, director, Travel Trade Consultancy, agreed major changes were on the cards. He said: “Customers will demand it unless the industry does something first.”

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