What is this obsession with air transport?

The consultation paper on Heathrow which is due to be published later today is predictably pro expansion. Already, Ruth Kelly has made clear that she thinks there should be no attempt to limit flying and that the whole focus should be on carbon offsetting, something which the cannier airlines accept as inevitable but the more bullish ones are resisting strongly.
Aviation exposes the deep flaws in our transport policy – or lack of it. The fundamental question is whether the policy should be encouraging more transport, because it is supposedly good for the economy, or attempting to limit it because it is damaging to the environment and, in any case, is often a residual outcome – i.e. it’s not the getting there we want, its what we do when we get there.
Even so, within even the limited world view of a New Labour politician, ever scared of frightening the public with statements or policies that might appear too Green, it is still bewildering that aviation should be granted such a special place in transport policy. The notion of predict and provide has long been discarded for motoring, though there is still a major roadbuilding programme that suggests the lessons of past experience have not been learnt, but at least no one is suggesting that we can accommodate the expected growth in vehicle use by building sufficient roads.
But that is the case with aviation. It’s one of those fundamentals which ultimately I do not get, like why Labour can’t just renationalise the railways, and be done with it. Or nationalise Northern Rock, to come to think of it.
What is it with aviation? Sure, we all like to go fly off to our holidays, though the experience of going through airports has made it pretty nightmarish. But this notion that if tickets or fuel were taxed, let alone aviation paying its proper environmental costs, then poor people would not be able to fly is completely bewildering. First, it is mostly the affluent who fly. Secondly, an extra thirty or forty quid on flights would not deter most people taking their annual vacation, something which has gone down in price over the years.
And thirdly, most importantly, doesn’t Labour believe in the market mechanism? After all, the way to reduce demand for a good is to put its price up. Sure, that will hurt Mr and Ms Average more than David Beckham or Sir Philip Green, but that is how capitalism works. Poorer people cannot buy Rolex watches or go to Premiership games, but no one suggests that is their right. Yet somehow, it seems that people have a right to fly, in the same way that they have access to the NHS or free education for their kids. Someone please explain this to me?

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