Kathriona Devereux: Some day I’ll fly away... and maybe using electric power!

As flying becomes a possibility again - the challenge of climate action remains, so says Kathriona Devereux in her weekly column
Kathriona Devereux: Some day I’ll fly away... and maybe using electric power!

FUTURE OF TRAVEL? External and internal views of the Airlander, a blimp planned to be built by UK company, Hybrid Air Vehicles.

AT the beginning of the pandemic, when we were stunned at the prospect of spending two weeks at home by ourselves (how innocent!), I wondered how we would occupy the kids with no school, no playgrounds, no playdates. I decided to make a list.

The kids and I sat down and wrote a ‘Things We Can Do’ list. Bake bread, make jigsaws, hopscotch; the activity of writing down every single activity we could think of actually soaked up a good hour one morning and I think we came up with about 50 activities that included ‘wash the car’ and ‘Skype Granny’.

One thing that got more mileage than expected was ‘look at old photographs’. Out came boxes of pictures of the kids as babies, of me and my husband as children, holiday snaps from our pre-children days. The kids spent hours poring over the photos.

That list served us well in those early weeks and months. A moan of boredom was remedied by inspection of the list until a suitable activity was agreed by all parties.

I thought the list had run its course but I returned to it recently on an endless afternoon of endless downpours. The chosen activity was again ‘look at old photos’, except this time the kids closely inspected photos of a lovely family holiday in Spain in 2019.

Every detail they noticed — the type of ice creams they were eating, an old t-shirt that no longer fits them, a memorable playground with a trampoline — awakened a deep desire in me to go on a sun holiday.

Oh, to potter around in a pair of flip flops and a light sundress without having to bring a cardigan, a raincoat and a pair of wellies in case the Irish weather takes an unpredictable turn.

The recent welcome blast of heat and sunshine helped, but didn’t quench my desire to get on a plane and visit loved ones dotted around the world. New York, Edinburgh, London, and Madrid are my desired destinations to visit aunties, new babies, old friends, ageing uncles and sprouting teenage godchildren.

Back in February, 2020, I wrote in this column about my intention to go on a flight diet. 

As a means of reducing my carbon footprint, I decided to cut out frivolous flights and only take one trip by plane in 2020. Well, reader I succeeded spectacularly! 

Along with much of the world. The collapse of air travel in 2020 was driven by the need to save our skins rather than save the planet.

The amount of passengers in the Republic’s airports fell by more than 80% in 2020. Cork airport’s passenger numbers decreased by more than two million people. 2021 doesn’t bode any better, with just 200,000 passengers predicted to pass through Ireland’s second biggest airport. A skydive drop of 2.6 millions to 200,000 passengers in two years is hard to fathom.

Behind those numbers are worried workers wondering about the long term viability of their industry and there are also missed daughters, sons and other loved ones who followed government advice and didn’t make the trip, deeming their regular visits to family or friends ‘non-essential’.

Some didn’t have the means to self-isolate for 14 days or pay for expensive PCR tests, others simply didn’t want to risk sitting elbow to elbow with a stranger and catching the virus.

The public cry for mandatory hotel quarantine showed that people didn’t want to risk all the hard work of the lockdowns for a short reschedulable visit. But when does a trip become essential? A death and funeral are essential, but is introducing a newly-arrived baby to her grandparents important? After 15 months, it starts to feel like it is.

With government plans for the resumption of international travel in July, some families are starting to hope there might be an end to their separation. 

However, with the highly transmissible, so-called Indian variant now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Britain, you’d wonder if the government’s plans for international travel will proceed as planned.

There is a seven-month-old member of our family who lives in London. I only know him from WhatsApp pictures and videos and he certainly doesn’t know me. He is getting bigger and cuter week by week and I desperately want a squeeze of him before he reaches the ‘mad for road’ stage of infant development and will wriggle from my lap.

I’m hoping the easing of restrictions means he’ll be able to make the trip here to meet his Cork cousins sooner rather than later. Or maybe I’ll go to London to see him and congratulate his parents in person for raising a human in the middle of a pandemic.

Yet the challenge of climate action remains. How to reconcile essential flights to visit relatives with the carbon footprint of that journey?

The aviation industry is trialling low carbon electric planes and hydrogen fuelled planes, but perhaps the answer might be in a blimp! I read with interest plans by a British company, Hybrid Air Vehicles, to fly passengers between UK regional cities by 2025 ,using an electric-powered airship called the Airlander.

The 100-seater spacious interior looks more like the inside of a ferry than the pack-’em-in seating arrangements of some airlines. It is considerably slower than a plane, but it can fly point-to-point rather than relying on traditional transport infrastructure like airports and ports. It also produces about 75% fewer emissions than comparable aircraft in similar roles.

So who knows, in the strange post-pandemic world that we are slowly inching ourselves into, maybe we can imagine a time when we make essential visits by airship and manage to keep both our families and planet happy at the same time!

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