November 2010

30 November 2010
Michael Jennings

In Laos, you modify a motorcycle to carry icecream to the children of the village

In Singapore, you modify a Segway to carry carbonated drinks to the children of the shopping mall foodcourt.


25 November 2010
International Flights Commence from Tokyo International Airport
Michael Jennings

As cities have expanded and their populations have become richer, and as the cost of air travel has dropped, airports have in many cities become overstretched, particularly if a city’s main airport was built decades ago in an area close to the centre of town, and now surrounded by populated areas into which the airport cannot easily be expanded. (Airports of course attract economic activity, so after a few years a major airport will always be surrounded by populated areas, even if it was initially built away from them).

There are two ways a city can deal with this. It can expand the original airport, which is costly, both financially and politically, and generally requires significant compulsory purchase of land and leads to public protest. Or it can build another airport.

If another airport is built, this will almost always be built a lot further from the centre of the city than the existing airport. Passengers and airlines will thus be reluctant to use the new airport in preference to the old airport, for reasons of convenience, and due to a “critical mass” factor. Airlines like to fly to destinations where there are lots of connecting flights, as passengers do not want to have to travel from one airport to another to change planes. This is especially so for high yield business passengers. All kinds of related businesses come into being around airports, and these businesses do not wish to move either.

Therefore, if you build a new airport and allow the old airport to remain open, it is quite conceivable that the new airport will remain largely unused, most flights will continue operating from the old airport, and airlines and related industries will continue pressuring government to allow further expansion of the old airport. This is more or less what has happened in London. Stansted Airport was expanded and the late 1980s. The intention was that Stansted would be mainly for long haul international travel, and would grow to rival Heathrow in this market. This entirely failed to happen, airlines continued to use Heathrow, those few airlines that attempted to run long haul services out of Stansted generally failed due to a lack of premium traffic, Heathrow was expanded further and pressure continues for more expansion still. Stansted was massively underutilised for a long time, eventually becoming a busy airport as a base for low cost airlines, an entirely different market to that originally envisaged.

Another option is to close the old airport. This is generally effective in terms of moving traffic to the new airport, but if the point of building the new airport is to make of for massive shortages in capacity, then closing down all your existing capacity seldom makes sense. There are cases where it does - Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong had a dangerous flightpath, and its location meant that there were major restrictions of the size of building that could be constructed in a large portion of the city. In this case, the move to the new airport at Chek Lap Kok was exemplary. Superb and fast transport links to the new airport were made available the day it opened. Truly spectacular engineering works turned a small but relatively tall island into the much larger but completely flat island on which the new, very large, airport was built.

This is an exception, though. Generally, what is desired is that the old airport will remain open but will not be greatly increased in capacity going forward. Hopefully most of the economies of scale and airport related businesses will move to the new site. What is desired is that the new airport will become the city’s main hub, and the older airport will fade to being the secondary airport.The trouble is that market forces tend to prefer the reverse.

Governments tend to attempt to solve this problem by regulating the activities that may take place at the old airport. The most common way of doing this is to insist that all international flights use the new airport, and that only domestic flights will be subsequently allowed to use the old airport. The idea is that people flying domestically are likely to be making short flights, often out and back in a day. On the other hand, traveling internationally is a big deal and often takes longer, and so travelers are likely to be less concerned about the time and distance getting to and from the airport.

This type of practice can often be a cover for protection of locally owned airlines, as these tend to be the ones who fly domestic routes, and as a consequence the practice is flat illegal in the European Union. (If it is legal to fly from airport X to London it must also be legal to fly from airport X to Paris, and Lisbon, and Bucharest). However, it has been common in other parts of the world. And it can backfire.

When discussing the question of just how much money various Canadian governments lost when hosting the Montreal Olympics, an argument that was used (and still sometimes is by people not paying close attention) is that “Many of the costs were not really about the Olympics. For one thing, the city of Montreal built a new airport, and they would have done that anyway”. As it happens, the first part of this sentence is true. Mirabel International Airport was indeed opened just before the Montreal Olympics. The original intention was that all flights into Montreal would ultimately use the new airport, but initially international flights only were forced to use it. Bluntly, everyone hated this, as the airport was a long way from Montreal, transport links were poor, and the existing Dorval airport was much more convenient. Rather than going to Mirabel, passengers would instead fly domestically to Toronto, change planes, and then fly on to international destinations. Eventually, plans to close Dorval were abandoned, and in 1997 international flights were once again allowed to use it. Today, Dorval has been expanded, and there are no scheduled flights from Mirabel to anywhere. So much for the airport dividend from the 1976 Olympics.

Of course, Montreal has been a city in relative decline, and Canada has a particularly uncompetitive aviation industry. In most instances in Europe or Asia, both airports would be used for something. A more interesting tale is the story of Tokyo, which has had an interesting development in the last month.

Tokyo International Airport was founded at a place named Haneda on the edge of Tokyo Bay in 1931, and is pretty much universally known as “Haneda Airport”. Haneda airport is extremely centrally located, being a 15 minute train ride from central Tokyo. In the mid 1960s, due to increased wealth and demand for air travel, it was decided that further expansion of Haneda was going to be difficult due to its proximity to the city and the difficulties of building further into Tokyo Bay with respect to landfill and the effect on shipping. As Tokyo is such an enormous city, the nearest suitable location was at Narita in Chiba Prefecture, about 60km from central Tokyo. The idea was to build an enormous four runway airport that could cope with Tokyo’s growth.

As it happened, though, building the airport in Narita turned out to be highly problematic. The land it was to be built on was mostly owned by rice farmers, who are an extremely powerful political lobby. Japan had virtually no history of compulsory acquisition of land for such projects, so the project was on shaky grounds both legally and culturally. Before the airport could be built, there were riots, demonstrations, legal challenges, sabotage, vandalism, and all kinds of other controversies. The airport opened in 1978, but its second runway did not open until 2002. The airport today is much smaller than originally planned. None the less, all international flights were forced to use Narita (with the exception of flight to Taiwan, which were kept from Haneda until 2002 in order that they avoid political controversies from using the same airport as flights from mainland China).

In the meantime, Japanese governments discovered that they preferred to confront engineering obstacles to confronting political obstacles when building airports. (This was aided by the fact that Japanese contruction companies are another powerful political lobby, and overengineered boondoggles thus became a Japanese specialty). Therefore, Haneda airport was further expanded. (Subsequent airports were built on artificial islands and such, to avoid the Narita controversy again). As the Japanese economy grew, demand for domestic air travel in and out of Tokyo grew, and Haneda airport became by far the largest and busiest airport in Asia, and one of the largest in the world. It remains one of the largest in the world, although Beijing Capital airport is now the busiest in Asia. Haneda retained its name - “Tokyo International Airport”, although it hosted no international flights. Narita officially became “New Tokyo International Airport” although this was all so confusing that the two airports were invariably referred to as “Haneda” and “Narita”. Haneda had a very curious character, though, for one of the busiest airports in the world. Virtually nobody outside its native country had traveled through it or even heard of it. International travel into and out of Tokyo remained much less developed than domestic travel, possibly due to Japan’s rather insular character, and partly due to the inadequate infrastructure, and great inconvenience of getting from Tokyo to its main international airport.

Over the last decade and some, though, things have changed. Japan has stagnated economically, as much of the rest of Asia has flourished. Japanese public finances have reached the point that expensive boondoggles can no longer be afforded. Cheap, discount air travel has become established throughout the rest of Asia, and Japan has been largely excluded from this due to its expensive, inaccessible airports.

This has led to a slow opening up of Haneda. The most obvious short haul international routes out of Tokyo that would benefit from flying from convenient airports in order to facilitate short business trips and the like are those to Korea. As it happens, Seoul also has an old, relatively central airport (Gimpo) and a newer, bigger aiport (Incheon) which all international flights were required to use upon its completion. Both airports made an exception for one another, however. From 2003, international flights were allowed from Haneda to Gimpo, which for a time were the only international flights allowed from either airport.

With the continued economic growth of China, however, routes from Haneda to China became more important. As it happened, Shanghai also had an old, relatively central airport (Hongqiao) and a newer, bigger airport (Pudong) which all international flights were required to use upon its completion. However, in 2007, an agreement was made to start flights from Haneda to Hangqiao. Flights from Seoul Gimpo to Hangqiao were commenced at the same time. This led to a truly magnificent rule for international flights out of Haneda. International flights out of Haneda were only permitted to other airports on short haul routes that did not allow international flights (Rumours that passengers were not permitted to fly on these routes unless they had done six impossible things before breakfast have never been confirmed).

In effect, Haneda, Gimpo, and Hangqiao airports (ie the domestic airports Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai) had decided that they would allow international routes between each other. If you have some familiarity with North East Asian geopolitics, there is one major destination missing: Beijing.

As it happens, Beijing has an older airport that only hosts domestic flights: Nanyuan. In 2007, Japan and China agreed that flights would be allowed from Haneda to Nanyuan, and Korea made a similar agreement with China. You can tell where this is going, can’t you?

Actually you can’t. Nanyuan is primarily a military airfield, and although there were governmental agreements to in theory allow flights from Gimpo and Haneda to Nanyuan, getting the Chinese military to agree to Japanese and Korean airlines flying into their base was another thing entirely. Flights therefore commenced in 2008, but flying to Beijing Capital airport on a “temporary” basis. They are still there.

The prohibition on international flights into Haneda was at that point more or less broken. This may have been the point.

Unlike Narita, Haneda airport has been expanded dramatically in recent years. The Tokyo Metropolitan government has (very conveniently) used the adjacent bay area as a landfill in recent decades, which has facilitated expansion of the airport, even though the national Transport Ministry has not always been supportive. New runways were opened in 1988, 1997, 2000, and 2010, and new terminals in 2004 and 2010. Government initially announced that some of this new capacity in 2010 would be permitted for international flights up to 1947km or less (the same distance as the longest domestic flight), which was a further concession to the existing flights to Seoul, Shanghai, and Beijing. Flights to and from any destination were allowed when Narita airport was closed, between 11pm and 6am.

A further concession to this was made before the new terminal opened last month, allowing flights from any destination to arrive (but not depart) between 6am and 8.30am, and to depart (but not arrive) between 8.30pm and 11pm. There is still a protectionist element in this. If a foreign long haul airline flies into Haneda at relatively civilized hour of the morning, the plane must sit on the tarmac until the evening before it may fly out again. Japanese airlines, on the other hand, can use the aircraft for domestic or short haul Asian routes during the daytime. This will not last though. Basically, Haneda airport is now a full international airport again. Long haul carriers to Europe and the US have commenced flights, as have discount and other airlines to points in South-East Asia.

There will be overwhelming pressure to finish derestricting its operating hours. Narita will become the secondary airport. It won’t go the way of Montreal Mirabel - airport capacity is still at too great a premium in Japan - but the premium traffic will all return to Haneda.

It is interesting to see how western journalists and western publications have reported the reopening of Haneda as an international airport. There is discussion of the facilities, and variability in understanding what was actually going on. This, I think is my favourite. No, Haneda is not Tokyo’s second biggest airport, it is by far the biggest, and always has been. The question is not whether Haneda is Tokyo’s second major airport, but whether Narita ever managed to gain that role itself. As was often the case, Japan was somewhat closed to the world, and opaque to foreigners, but if you are going to write about it, you need to have a proper explanation of how things reached the state they are now in.

As I hope readers of this blog now have.

Observations from a week spent driving on autoroutes, toll autoroutes and autobahns
Patrick Crozier

Lane discipline is much better even on French non-toll roads

There are an awful lot of lorries on the continent.  Seriously, much more than in the UK.

And they all seem to come from Slovenia.

Yes, that is an exaggeration.  But only just.

They are much hillier.  Michael tells me that this is because they are so old.  One of them even split as it went round a mountain.  One carriageway one side, one the other.

Most are only two lanes.

Autobahns and toll autoroutes are in good condition.  Ordinary toll-less autoroutes less so.

I much prefer driving on the toll autoroutes.  It was the only place I could set the cruise control.

Which is really nice.

Contrary to popular belief you can’t drive at any speed you like on the autobahn.  Sometimes you can but as often as not there are limits and these vary frequently.

Sat nav is both a god-send and a menace.

Driving as fast as you like is great until the car starts to vibrate in an alarming way.

I think one of the reasons lane discipline is so much better is because there are usually only two lanes.  These become a normal lane and an overtaking lane.  The flaw in this argument is Australia (isn’t it always?) There, according to Michael, they also have mostly two-lane highways and poor lane discipline.

Driving in a right-hand drive vehicle in a right-hand side of the road country is not nearly as difficult as you might think.  And it makes parking a whole lot easier.

Some Germans don’t half bomb along in the outside lane. 130-140 mph easily.  This is quite scary when they are coming up behind you.

Surfaces are not quite as good as in Britain.  Not even in Germany.  But some German surfaces are really quiet.  I think it may be some kind of experiment.

Slip roads and off ramps tend to be much tighter than in the UK.

Oh, by the way, whenever and wherever I hit an on-ramp, I floor it.  It’s the only way to get yourself up to the right speed.  I think that’s the right thing to do.

Autobahns are really busy.  So are France’s non-toll autoroutes.

Roadworks are everywhere on the autobahns.  And lanes alarmingly narrow.

The French have (how shall we put this?) a much more “relaxed” attitude to roadworks.  A sign, a few cones and that’s it.

24 November 2010
SpaceX gets permission to re-enter
Brian Micklethwait

This sounds good:

Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk’s California-based space launch firm has become the first commercial company to receive a Federal Aviation Administration license to allow an orbiting spacecraft to return to Earth.

I did a piece a while back for Samizdata, speculating about why Obama’s space policies are so bafflingly sensible, which would have been linked to from here, I dare say, had here been in business at the time.

LATER: More transport related bloggery from me here, including (at the end) a question which I would love to have answered, and in particular see (in a picture) answered.

23 November 2010
Junk-touching roundup
Rob Fisher

Not so long ago we were looking forward to a new era of sensible airport security. Now everyone is getting their junk touched.

This all started when backscatter naked X-ray machines were introduced in US airports recently. If you don’t like it, you can opt-out, but you get an “enhanced” pat-down. Then John Tyner coined a phrase when he told a TSA officer, “if you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested”. He is now a Legendary Internet Hero and everyone is having a go. Since then he’s made a few more posts on the subject. They are sensible and articulate. He makes a point I’ve made myself, which is that people don’t really want maximum safety at all costs. Citing an article in reason, Tyner writes:

if a plane was hijacked and crashed once per week, one’s odds of dying would be 1 in 135,000. One would be almost three times as likely to be killed crossing the street, eight times as likely to be murdered, and over twenty times as likely to be killed in a car crash. Really think about that for a second. If a plane was hijacked and crashed once per week, you would still be more likely to be killed driving to the airport to get on that plane. The takeaway from this should be that terrorism (in the air) just isn’t that common. However, it has certainly achieved its intended end, to terrorize.

He goes on to say that since 4 out of 5 people walk through the metal detector anyway, molesting the remaining 1 out of 5 doesn’t do any good anyway. It’s a lot of cost for no benefit. Oddly enough, the Daily Mail (via Angry Teen) thinks you’re just as likely to die from the radiation from the backscatter machine as to die from a terrorist attack.

Really it’s worth keeping an eye on Tyner’s blog. There are a few other articles so far in which he defends himself from various criticisms, including the old “flying is a privilege” line, in which post he analyses the situation from the point of view of his contract with the airline.

Since then, blogs have declared open season on the TSA:

  • I first became aware of the new security procedures via Samizdata, wherein we learn that Andrew Ian Dodge got his junk, and his scar from surgery, touched.
  • Eric Raymond does not want to fly any more.
  • (He thinks the real solution to air terrorism is to arm the passengers.)
  • One of his commenters links to a cartoon showing a spoof cover of a book titled “My first cavity search: Helping your child understand why he may pose a threat to National Security”. The cartoon turns up displayed in a TSA office.
  • People don’t like their children being patted down by the TSA. Angry Teen links to a video of this happening. The TSA say that the boy’s father removed his shirt to expedite the screening and no complaint was made. However, a video taken in 2008 of a three year old girl who screams “stop touching me” has resurfaced. Her father *was* complaining.
  • TSA agents don’t like being called “molesters” and “perverts”. They also don’t like feeling inside the flab creases of obese people. Imagine what it must be like for the obese people! The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler has no sympathy.
  • It’s not just fat people who suffer indgnity: One poor chap was left soaked in urine after a TSA agent broke his urostomy bag. A poor woman was forced to show her prosthetic breast.
  • All kinds of people are likely to be *really sensitive* about being groped by strangers. A rape victim reports being traumatised by the TSA.
  • Somebody is selling backscatter-machine thwarting underwear.
  • NickM at Counting Cats has a good old rant.
  • Plane full of soldiers returning from Afghanistan. They’re all carrying rifles. The TSA confiscates one soldier’s nail clippers.
  • Heresy Corner points out that since security theatre only works when everyone plays along, a large scale backlash will be a huge problem for the TSA. He also links to a story about a porn star who mocks the TSA, insisting on being examined while wearing see-through underwear. It’s the sexualisation of airport security which is fuelling the backlash, he says.
  • In a similar vein, Nate Anderson at Ars Technica suggests wearing a kilt in the traditional manner.
  • An organisation called We Won’t Fly wants people to opt-out of backscatter machines en masse.
  • Slashdot has a discussion about ways to make backscatter machines less objectionable by using computer vision. One commenter argues that planes can’t be used as missles any more, that blowing them up isn’t cost effective for terrorists, and best of all:

I don’t even think the TSA should be the one scanning the people at all, it should be the individual airlines. That way you can choose to pay for your security if you really want it, and competitive practices can find the optimal solution.

That’s all for now. I have a feeling there is going to be much more.

“There’s a horse in that car!”
Brian Micklethwait

Great news!  Carrying animals in vehicles that you would think would be far too small also happens in America.  (Via David Thompson.)

21 November 2010
A few rather ancient transport links
Brian Micklethwait

Some while back I started accumulating links to interesting transport things, concerning events during the recent spell of Transport Blog outage, by googling “transport” and ignoring everything boring, which is a hell of a lot.  (Mostly politicians moaning about how they aren’t being allowed or should be allowed to waste public money on transport crap of various sorts.)

But then I got ill and forgot about this.  Today, just to clear my decks, I give you this file of links.  There aren’t actually that many, but for what they are worth, click and enjoy:

Inside the world’s biggest private jet.

Is Google the most significant transport enterprise of twenty first century?

Passengers break out of train.

Germany gets across the channel.  It’s taken seventy years for the big arrows at the beginning of Dad’s Army to get here, but now they are about to.

The mobile web is bigger than transport.

Video of train spotter failing to spot the train.  It’s behind you.

Buy more salt.  I.e. for the roads this winter.

And finally, what with Michael’s recent writings here on the subject, a couple of motorcycle links: Motorcycles - miracle or menace?, and The tireless motorcycle museum curator.  Tireless.  Get it?  Oh never mind.

See also this excellent Vietnam motorbike picture.

Patrick: please feel free to re-edit the categorisations below.

LATER:  I also agree with the commenter who reckons that this bit of road building video is BRILJANT!!!

18 November 2010
Patrick and Michael on the Autobahn
Rob Fisher

Incoming text message from Michael Jennings, who is currently in Germany with Patrick Crozier: “Patrick is driving at 120mph. Freedom!?”  Replied me: “I’m sure Patrick knows what he is doing. You will most likely be ok.” Replied Michael: “Patrick responded with a sinister laugh.”  Then later: “Europe is full of stupid bloody windmills.”

Indeed. The same thing that causes those windmills might also cause Patrick to slow down, sooner or later. German watermelons want to slow people down to reduce CO2 emissions.

The end of the M4 bus lane
Brian Micklethwait

The new British Coalition Government is scrapping the M4 bus lane from London to Heathrow:

“Scrapping the M4 bus lane is symbolic of this Government’s decision to end the war on the motorist,” the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, said yesterday. “It ends the injustice suffered by thousands of drivers who sit in traffic next to an empty lane day in, day out.”

But not everyone is pleased to see the bus lane disappear. Taxi drivers now face being stuck in the same queues as other motorists, ...

In a total transport free market, there would be no “wars” against this or that form of transport, merely rational economic calculation.  If taxis paid enough for their own lane, they’d get it.  If buses assembled enough poor people to outbid richer own-car-users, ditto.

Meanwhile, all there is is politics.

17 November 2010
By cable car across the Thames?
Brian Micklethwait

At Londonist today, I learned for the first time of a scheme to build a ski lift across the Thames, from the Dome to the Royal Docks.


Exactly how serious this scheme is, I do not know.  But I must say, as transport infrastructural follies go, this one does seem to me to be remarkably unfoolish.  The technology, thanks to the snow-based tourist trade around the world, is well understood.  Compared to the digging up of London involved in things like Crossrail, the cost of this thing will be peanuts.  They’re now saying £25M, so make that £100M.  With luck, corporate sponsors and operators will pick up the tab.

Best of all, this being transport and not just a static Big Thing, they will want people to go on it and will make that easy, and the views from it should be excellent.  In that part of London the views are especially good, what with the towers and the curviness of the river and view west at sunset time.  (I will believe in my right to take photos from half way up the Shard when that happens, but not a moment sooner.)

If it’s a success, maybe they’ll build other such erections, as apparently they planned to in the nineties.

The one thing it will absolutely not do is “relieve congestion”, as I saw being speculated/ridiculed by various commenters, here and there.  Create more congestion is far more likely, as people journey into London to have a go on it, or, more mundanely, travel to it and from it in order to use it.

Wanky architectural fake photo here.  TfL’s (very boring and non-committal) take on it here.

11 November 2010
Flexibility and adaptation
Michael Jennings
What is this guy selling?

When I recently wrote about taxis, Brian drew attention to my observations about the utility of motorcycles in the developing world. The most obvious part of this comes from their low cost, both to buy and to operate. Another part comes from the fact that they require less surrounding infrastructure than do larger vehicles. Motorcycles can use narrow roads with relatively rough surfaces, and if you have a wide road a great many more motorcycles can use the road than can larger vehicles. The motorcycle infrastructure can have an ad-hoc quality to it, also. Disused railway bridges will be converted into bridges carrying cyclists and motorcycles. Used railway bridges will have an extra carriageway for motorcycles attached to the side. The weight and size of cars and trucks is such that they require much more dedicated infrastructure. When you take into account that the average number of passengers on a motorcycle in many developing countries is higher than in developed countries - a motorcycle somehow carries a husband, wife, and two small children is almost a cliche in some of these places - the toll in terms of congestion is much lower than for full sized cars. (There is a disgustingly congested an polluted stage that cities go through when their middle classes do become rich enough to afford cars and the infrastructure has not yet caught up. Bangkok went through this stage 15-20 years ago. Hanoi and Saigon are going to go through it soon, if they are not careful). You see people on motorcycles carrying large amounts of luggage, barrells full of live fish, panes of glass of the sort that people carry across the road in chase scenes in 1960s Bond movies. Somehow they manage it. Motorcycles are modified into all other kinds of vehicles, too. The tuk-tuk is basically the front of a motorcycle with the back of a rickshaw or sometimes a light truck. Judging by the variation in design from place to place, they were initially an ad-hoc development and many of them still are. This sort of modification would not be legal in more developed markets, but in poorer countries it still happens.

In my recent sojourn in Asia I saw all of this.

Most charming, though, was perhaps the fellow pictured at the top of this post. I was wandering down a dirt road in a village on the other side of the Mekong from Luang Prabang in Laos. This fellow rode past with a motorcycle with an odd sidecarriage. He gestured to me, clearly selling something. I nodded politely, as people attempt to sell you things a lot in such places. My guess was that he was selling food of some kind, but I wasn’t really hungry However, he gestured that I come over and look. He opened the top of one of the metal barels, to make it clear what he was selling.

The answer was ice cream. His motorcycle sidecarriage had inbuilt refrigeration and was conveying ice cream. He gave me a free taste. He didn’t really need to, as it was hot and an ice cream was quite appealing. So I bought an ice cream, as I am sure he knew I would.

Although selling ice cream to any passing western tourists was no doubt a good sideline, the bulk of his business was local people. Or, to be more specific, local children, who clearly enjoy an ice cream just as much as children do anywhere else. (Not exactly a surprise). If you want to do this in England, you have much higher costs because you have to use a van, and no doubt lots of health and safety crap. But in Laos, you buy a motorcycle and adapt.

Oddly enough, while reading Bruce Sterling’s blog today, I found this slick, rather self-congratulatory video.

VIMBY - Take on the Machine: Episode One

Although the people in it are clearly having a good time, the “hacker spaces” in it strike me as close to being something resembling native reservations. In the poor world, the whole country is the hacker space. While a bicycle that makes ice cream may be cool, the poorest countries of the world have managed it long ago, because their children like ice cream and people like making a living. Why have we lost this? How have we lost this? Losing this is going to cost us.

01 November 2010
Air Passenger Duty increase
Rob Fisher

The air passenger duty is due to increase. It’s a rule that taxes like this always increase (“passengers now being asked to pay up to ten times more tax since APD’s introduction”), and always get more complicated:

The new APD places foreign destinations in bands, depending on how far they are away from the UK, increasing the amount of air tax paid as the distance increases.

That smells like a recipe for politicians to engineer their favoured outcomes.

However, the Caribbean is complaining that it has been unfairly hit after it was put in band C despite being only eight hours from the UK. Los Angeles in the USA is in the cheaper band B even though it is 12 hours away.

Malice, incompetence, or trade winds?

The current government wants to double the revenue it earns from aviation tax in the next four years from £28.9bn to more than £56bn. Of course, extra costs to airlines eventually find their way to customers too.

Back to the 70s we go: cheap air travel is doomed. When will the Laffer curve kick in?

Reading through the search results for “air passenger duty” on BBC News gives some sense of the inevitability of it all: Air passenger duty was invented in 1994, and in 2003 the greens were calling for it to be increased. In the 2004 budget it was frozen. There was constant clamouring to increase it, which finally happened in February 2007. Just one year later, MPs were calling for it to increase again. The current increases were planned by Alastair Darling shortly afterwards. The first of these happened this time last year.

Update: Tim Worstall says that airlines who complain that this tax is bad because it will dissuade people from flying are forgetting that this is the point of the tax. So I suppose airlines have to say something like, “dissuading people from flying is bad because the planet does not need saving”. For some reason large companies are reluctant to say such things.